Saving Seeds To Plant and Share
Tips and Ideas
Although you can easily save and replant many types of garden seeds without a lot of background knowledge, knowing some botany basics can make it a more fruitful and fascinating experience. It is important to know whether a plant is hybrid or open-pollinated.
Open-pollinated plants either transfer pollen internally, from male to female flowers (called self-pollinating) or have pollen transferred by wind or insects.
A hybrid is produced when seed companies cross two specific lines (a tomato with a thick skin and another with large fruits, for instance) to create a new variety. (Seed catalogs and packets will tell you if seed is hybrid.)
You cannot count on seeds from hybrid plants to produce offspring with the parents' characteristics.
Some seeds of hybrids, in fact, will be sterile. Don't waste your time on seeds from hybrid plants unless you are doing so as part of an experiment or simply to see what you end up with.
Seeds of self-pollinating plants, on the other hand, will produce offspring much like the parents.
There is a small but growing group of hobby gardeners that prefer Saving Seeds or to collect their own seeds. By doing this they not only save a small sum of money but also can attempt to do their own amateur plant breeding and selection of what they consider to be superior cultivars.
Side Bar: be advised that seeds of some patented cultivars may be illegal, but not too much is an issue here until you attempt to sell seeds or the plants.
Most garden seeds either mature dry in pods (beans) or capsules, flowers, or fleshy fruits (tomatoes, squash, cucumbers).
The ideal time for Gathering and Saving Seeds varies from crop to crop. Melon seeds, for instance, are mature when the fruits are ready to eat, but squash and cukes should be left on the plant for weeks after you'd normally eat them. Generally, let vegetable garden seeds dry on the plant as long as possible.
If annual and perennial flowers and herbs (including wild ones) intrigue you, you may need to look even more carefully for signs that seeds are ripe. Withering and drooping flowers indicate that their job of attracting pollinators is done and that seeds are beginning to form.
Flower stalks that have dried and turned brown or seedpods that have turned from green to dark color are good indicators that seeds are mature. If you hear a rattle or if seeds fall when they tap lightly on flower stalks, it's time to harvest.
Try to harvest seeds on a sunny day, once the dew has evaporated, and remove all pulp and fiber from their surfaces. Certain seeds will scatter when the seed head is dry or lose seeds gradually as they ripen. You can shake their stalks every few days over a paper bag to collect the ripe seed before it's lost.
Sunflower, bean, and pepper seeds, on the other hand, can be fun to harvest by hand (especially when kids are there to teach and to help you).
Drying and Storing Seeds:
Before storing seeds, you'll need to make sure that they are completely dry by spreading them out on a flat surface (e.g., a screen or tray) in a dry, airy place.
Seeds that are borne in fleshy fruits, such as tomatoes, should be rinsed or sit in water for several days and left to ferment before being spread out to dry (see chart, below, for details).
Seeds that are borne on capsules or flowers may need to be separated from the chaff (seed covering and other debris) before storage. You can do this by tossing seeds lightly on a screen or tray and blowing or letting a breeze remove the lighter debris.
Once seeds are dry, put them in envelopes and then in small glass jars (such as baby food containers) with tight lids, and label them. Some people prefer using plastic bags or just glass jars, which work fine if the seeds are absolutely dry. Store seeds where it's cool, dark, and dry. A refrigerator, freezer, or similar location is fine.
If your seeds are stored properly, they should last at least two to three years, if not longer, depending on the plant types. (Onion and corn seeds only remain viable for a year.)
Once you've tried some basic seed saving, you must go a step further and find out what the seeds needs are before you plant them.
When Saving Seeds, you may need to keep this in mind.
Stratification is the process of pre treating seeds to simulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination. Many seed species undergo an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken. The time taken to stratify your seeds depends on species and conditions; though in many cases two months is sufficient.
In some extreme case, even longer.
In the wild, seed dormancy is usually overcome by the seed spending time in the ground through a winter period and having their hard seed coat softened up by frost and weathering action. By doing so the seed is undergoing a natural form of "stratification" or pretreatment. This cold moist period triggers the seed's embryo, its growth and subsequent expansion eventually break through the softened seed coat in its search for sun and nutrients.
Stratification is the process of subjecting seeds to both cold and moist conditions. Where seeds were layered (stratified) between layers of moist soil and exposing these strata to winter conditions. Thus, stratification became the process by which seeds were artificially exposed to cold-moist conditions between layers of soil or peat to encourage subsequent germination in spring. Seed of many trees, shrubs and perennials require these conditions before germination will ensue.
In its most basic form, when the stratification process is controlled, the pretreatment amounts to nothing more than subjecting the seeds to storage in a cool (not freezing) and moist environment for a period found to be sufficient for the species in question. This period of time may vary from one to three months.
To accomplish this you may be saving seeds in a sealed plastic bag with moistened vermiculite (or sand or even a moistened paper towel) and refrigerate it. Use three times the amount of vermiculite as seeds. It is important to only slightly dampen the vermiculite, as excessive moisture can cause the seeds to grow moldy in the bag.
After undergoing the recommended period of stratification, the seeds are ready to be removed and sown in the nursery bed for germination. Alternatively, the seed may be sown in small pots filled with moist soil and then the whole thing enclosed inside a plastic bag before placing inside a common refrigerator.
In some cases, extreme heat is required to break seeds open. A prime example would be a forest fire that cracks open seeds of certain species of pine.
When you are out there Collecting and Saving Seeds, always save some for your your birds and other wildlife.
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