Sav­ing seeds saves money, plant his­tory

Prac­tice grows with in­crease of home gar­den­ing

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Dean Fos­dick

Seed sav­ing is pre­cisely that. Gath­er­ing seed saves money for the next plant­ing sea­son and also saves ge­netic strains that may have orig­i­nated gen­er­a­tions ago in fam­ily gar­dens.

But it takes plan­ning and good tim­ing.

“Seed sav­ing has al­ways been a com­mon way to save seeds that were adapted to lo­cal cli­mates or that had lo­cal his­tor­i­cal value,” said John Porter, an ed­u­ca­tor with Univer­sity of Ne­braska at Lin­coln Ex­ten­sion. “The prac­tice has become much more pop­u­lar with the in­crease of home food gar­den­ing and in­ter­est in heir­looms over the last few years.”

Gar­den­ers can save seeds from just about any­thing that pro­duces fruit or seeds, Porter said. Open- or self­pol­li­nated plants like beans, let­tuce, pep­pers, egg­plants and toma­toes are among the best be­cause their off­spring will be the most de­pend­able.

An­nu­als are most com­monly used be­cause they’re re­li­able about pro­duc­ing seeds. “Not all peren­ni­als pro­duce seeds, and some­times they need treat­ments to break their dor­mancy,” Porter said.

Hy­brids are the plant byprod­ucts of two dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties and com­bine the qual­i­ties of both. Hy­brids are val­ued for their dis­ease re­sis­tance but are not sta­ble enough for seed sav­ing. Their off­spring may dis­play the mixed traits of ear­lier gen­er­a­tions.

Heir­looms, mean­while, are open-pol­li­nated va­ri­eties that ei­ther have a fam­ily or lo­cal his­tory, or that have been around for 50 or more years, said We­ston Miller, a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with the Ore­gon State Univer­sity Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice.

“As a rule, heir­looms are open-pol­li­nated, oth­er­wise they wouldn’t be easy to save,” he said.

Plan ahead and de­ter­mine which open-pol­li­nated edi­bles you want in your gar­den or on your din­ing ta­ble, and then learn their grow­ing cy­cles. De­ter­mine as they de­velop which are the health­i­est, and save them as the mother plants. Al­low those to ripen be­yond their nor­mal har­vest pe­riod.

“It is im­por­tant to wait long enough for the fruit and seed of the plant to ma­ture,” Porter said, “but har­vest early enough that rot­ting isn’t an is­sue. The seeds won’t nec­es­sar­ily rot when the fruit does, but no­body en­joys dig­ging through rot­ten pro­duce to har­vest seeds.”

Let­tuce and bean seeds can be re­moved from the plants once they are dry and hard, Miller said. “Don’t har­vest seeds when the plants are wet from pre­cip­i­ta­tion,” he said.

Store seeds in tightly sealed glass con­tain­ers in a cool, dark lo­ca­tion.

“Make sure that you la­bel seeds with the type of seed and date,” Miller said. “A small packet of sil­ica des­ic­cant or pow­ered milk in the jar can help to re­move mois­ture and keep the seeds dry.

“The re­frig­er­a­tor or freezer is also a good place for stor­ing seeds that you col­lect and also seeds that you buy. Put small seeds in en­velopes and la­bel them. Place the en­velopes in seal­able freezer bags.”

Seed sav­ing re­quires time and en­ergy, but the ef­fort is worth it, Porter said.

“Seed sav­ing not only pre­serves a plant va­ri­ety for the fu­ture but also the his­tory of that va­ri­ety,” he said. “Sav­ing seeds from plants that per­form well in your gar­den is also a ba­sic form of plant se­lec­tion that over time de­vel­ops a strain of that plant that is adapted to thrive in your lo­cal cli­mate.”

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

Open- or self-pol­li­nated plants like beans, let­tuce, pep­pers, egg­plants and toma­toes are among the best from which to save seeds. Heir­loom plants, such as heir­loom toma­toes, are open-pol­li­nated va­ri­eties that ei­ther have a fam­ily or lo­cal his­tory, or that have been around for 50 or more years.

ELLEN NIBALI

Canadian clear­weed is non-in­va­sive and adapt­able, but it can be a nui­sance in or­na­men­tal beds. Luck­ily, it’s in­cred­i­bly easy to pull out.

CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Be­fore you store your seeds, make sure they are com­pletely dry. Keep seeds in tightly sealed glass con­tain­ers in a cool, dark lo­ca­tion.

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