Saturday, September 17, 2011

Basic Seed Saving

The garden is filled with beautiful seeds at this time of season.  We've been saving beans, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, orach, peas, coriander, and various flowers and herbs in order to plant our favourites again next year.

This weekend's timely workshop at Little City Farm was on basic seed saving.   We were pleased to have the director of Seeds of Diversity here again this year to lead this workshop.  Seeds of Diversity is a "national charitable organization comprised of gardeners and farmers who preserve the biodiversity and heritage of Canada's food plants."  To get involved, gardeners can grow and save seeds of endangered varieties of plants for the national Seed Library, or grow a rare variety and help document it.

The workshop covered the basic components of seeds (we opened up beans that had been soaked, revealing the seed coat, the inner body of "food" for the seed, and the miniscule bean-like seed inside ready to sprout).  We talked about self-pollination and cross-pollination.  Good examples of simple garden plants that are self-pollinating (i.e. flowers rightly closed so insect and wind-blown pollen can't get inside to cross pollinate): tomatoes, bush beans, lettuce and peas are great vegetables to start with as a beginning seed saver.  For cross-pollinationg plants (e.g. squash, eggplant), with flowers that are wider open, the plants either need to be isolated (by distance or row covers) or by having plants that flower at different times in order to save seeds properly.  I was surprised to hear that tomatoes are self-pollinating and have about a 95% chance of getting the same variety as the saved seed (that means, very little chance of cross-pollination).  I had always thought that tomatoes needs a large distance between varieties grown in the garden, but their tiny closed flowers make it nearly impossible for insects or wind to transfer the pollen. 

A few more tips from Seeds of Diversity for seed saving success:
- grow heirloom plants (not hybrids)
- collect seeds from plants that are mature and free from disease
- keep seeds dry, and have them fully dried before storing
- label your seeds with name and year harvested
- store in cool dark place for longterm storage

Seed photos from our garden from top to bottom: lettuce, and lettuce again, echinacea, fennel, teasel, red orach (wild mountain spinach), and hops.

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