Heirloom Expert: Seed Saving

Doug Oster has some advice and tips for how you can start saving seeds and become a seed saver, growing you own garden from your own seeds.

  • Clearly labeled packets make seed saving easy.
    Photo by Fotolia/monamakela.com

I’d love to try and save seeds from my garden. Do you have any suggestions for doing it?

I’ve been a seed saver for more than 20 years and it’s as much fun today as it was when I started.

The first thing you need to figure out is if the variety you want to save is open-pollinated or hybrid. Heirloom seeds are all open-pollinated and will grow true. The hybrids will either be sterile or revert to one of the parents used in creating it. That can be a fun experiment, but it won’t produce the same plant. Once that’s been determined the fun starts. But seed saving is actually a season-long endeavor. Selecting the right plants to save seeds from means watching them and recording how they do. The idea is to save the plant which will give you the traits you seek.

Let’s take tomatoes for example; we might be looking for a vigorous, disease-resistant plant which produces the first fruit of the season. We’ll pick that first tomato from the plant that looks the best. In the case of lettuce, spinach or other greens the idea is to find the plant which goes to seed the latest. That way there’s a longer harvest before the plant bolts.

The idea in seed saving is to mimic nature and get the seed right before the plant discards it. This again is all about observing the flower or vegetable to see how it would deliver its seed. Tomatoes are removed just before they would fall to the ground. Each plant is different, and part of the fun is figuring out when the seed is mature and how to gather it.

The first season I used my own seeds, I was amazed at germination rates over 95 percent. Share your seeds with friends and trade them to make new friends. That’s one of the joys of gardening.

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