It's that time of year to take stock of your garden. If you haven't already done so, it may be time to start pulling out your summer crops and to decide whether to sow autumn crops and/or manure crops.
As part of this clean up, there's a great opportunity to get thrifty - take advantage of the bounty in your garden for your own use and to share with others. Consider doing the following with family, friends and neighbours:
- Collect and swap seeds
- Take cuttings
- Divide plants
- Pull bulbs
- Create compost from your garden waste
Saving seed is an exercise in self sufficiency and a lesson in plant biology. It's fun, because you’re helping to preserve uncommon genetic material or because you like to share gardening knowledge with others. I have to admit that there is some satisfaction in knowing that you have grown something from the seed that you have saved. If you have never done this before, begin with something easy like beans.
Many of our customers are interested in purchasing heirloom/heritage seed varieties. This relates to not just the actual saving of the seed but also superior flavour and harvest times. Be aware of whether the varieties you have sown are heirloom or open-pollinated as these are the varieties to save seed from. If you have chosen a hybrid variety, see below for an explanation as to why we don't recommend saving this seed. All our varieties are clearly specified as heirloom, open-pollinated or hybrid in the information boxes in our catalogue and on the website.
CONSIDER THIS PRIOR TO SEED HARVESTING
Did you know that pollen from corn and cucurbits can travel up to 1km easily? That's very efficient pollination but not so if you are wanting to save seed. Plants can cross pollinate with similar varieties of the same species so:
- We recommend you grow and save seed from one variety of a species each season
- Isolate same species by distance or contain them in insect and windproof enclosures
- Plant varieties that will flower at different times to reduce the chances of cross-pollination
- Control pests and diseases during the growing season to avoid the seed borne transfer of viral, fungal and bacterial diseases.
TIPS FOR HARVESTING SEED
One of the best things to remember when selecting plants from which to harvest seed is that next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed!
- Choose from a large population base. Seed can be saved from individual plants, however, most species are best to have seed saved from a large population base to keep the genetics strong.
- Select from the best. Always choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables that are true to type. Eliminate any plants that show poor characteristics prior to maturity. Desirable plant qualities to consider are flavour, plant size, harvest time, bolting time, fruiting abundance, yield and pest resistance.
- Harvest when the time is right. When the seed pods have dried on the plant or when the fruit or vegetable is fully ripe and well past its edible stage.
CLEANING AND STORING SEED
- Remove as much chaff, seed pod and plant material as possible. This can harbour unwanted pests and disease.
- Make sure the seed is completely dry to prevent the seed from rotting or developing mould when in storage.
- Date and label all seed packets.
- Seed needs heat, light and moisture to germinate so the reverse is best for storage – COOL, DARK and DRY – preferably in an airtight container. Exceptions to this are beans and nasturtiums which prefer to be in breathable bags.
- Maintain constant temperature and humidity of seed in storage.
- Watch out for insects in stored seed. Problem insects include Weevils, Moths, Mites and Trogoderma which are microscopic.
- Be aware that all seed has a shelf life. Seed with a short shelf life should be sown fresh each season including Onions, Parsnip, Lettuce, Peppers/Chillies (shelf life 1 to 2 years). Other time frames are Carrots 2 years; Beans, Peas and Eggplants 2-3 years; Cucurbits and Tomatoes 3-5 years; Brassica 3-10 years.
- Do not store seed in the freezer. The moisture in stored seed can vary from 1-10%. Higher moisture levels can cause the seed to expand and shatter internally.
What is a hybrid?
The reason we ask if you know this is that it is not recommended practice to save seed from hybrid varieties.
The name of a hybrid ends in 'F1' or 'F2'. A hybrid is the result of a cross between two closely related plants that are genetically similar but different. The resulting cross could possibly produce a mix of offspring which may have different characteristics to its parent. Therefore, if you try to grow again from the seed of a hybrid, you'll never know what you're going to get. We find there is a common misconception that a hybrid has been genetically modified - please note that this is not the case!! It is not our policy to sell GM seed.
Now that you have saved your tomato and pumpkin seed, taken some cuttings from your woody herbs such as marjoram, sage, oregano and lavender, divided your rhubarb, chives and bergamot, it's time to start sharing your bounty with all those grateful gardeners you will find out there. Or better still, swap with other like-minded gardeners. Most important of all, have fun doing it, and you may gain the bonus of increasing the varieties in your garden for next spring.