Seed saving is a way to grow locally and preserve memories as well as plant diversity.
Growing and eating locally is all the rage these days. And seed saving is one way to grow from a very, very local source -- your own garden.
You also can save a few bucks, but saving seeds really isn't about saving money. It's more about preserving plants that may have sentimental connections (like Great-Grandma's heirloom tomato), that are especially well-adapted to your garden site or that aren't widely available.
And by saving seeds, you're doing more than growing some of your favorite plants. You're helping preserve ethnic and cultural heritage as well as genetic diversity. Besides, it's a fun experiment in plant propagation.
What to save
Not all flowers and vegetables are good candidates for seed saving.
Most hybrid plants will not breed true from seed. Instead, plants grown from hybrid seeds are likely to be quite different from the original plant. So, if you have plenty of garden space and just want to see what you'll end up with, save and plant some hybrid seeds. Otherwise, stick with nonhybrid plants.
The seeds of what are called open-pollinated varieties will produce plants that are virtually the same as the parent. (Most heritage or heirloom flower and vegetable varieties fall in this category.) By collecting and carefully preserving open-pollinated seeds, gardeners have preserved these varieties for years, even centuries.
Self-pollinated plants -- including tomatoes, beans, peas and lettuce -- are among the easiest from which to save seeds. The flowers' structures allow the pollen to pollinate the carpel (female part) without the aid of insects, and pollen from a different plant is not required.
Cross-pollinated plants -- broccoli, corn, spinach and onions -- require either insects or wind to deliver pollen to the carpels. If you are growing more than one variety of any of these plants, you may have to prevent unwanted cross-pollination by hand-pollinating, then bagging or screening flowers to keep out insects or wind-borne pollen.
(Eggplants and peppers can self-pollinate, but they also may be cross-pollinated by insects, so either grow only one variety or screen out insects to prevent cross-pollination if you plan on collecting seeds.)
Nancy Rose is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-9073 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.
How to collect Seeds
Allow fleshy fruits (such as tomatoes and eggplants) to fully ripen, then extract the seeds. Clean the seeds and allow them to dry thoroughly before storing.
(Tomatoes have germination inhibitors in the gel around their seeds. To remove them, let the seeds soak in a jar of water for several days, then strain and clean the seeds and spread them on a paper towel to dry.)
Store dry seeds in glass jars in a cool, dry place like a refrigerator.
Allow vegetables with dry seeds (such as peas and beans) to mature fully in the pod, which will be dry and brown, then remove the seeds from the pod and store as described above.
Herbs with dry seeds (such as dill, chives and cilantro) can also be collected and saved.
Seeds of many annual and perennials can easily be saved.
Allow flower seedheads to mature (turn dry and brown), then collect and store the seeds.
Good choices include larkspur, California poppy, corn poppy, scarlet runner bean, sweet William, cosmos, morning glories and columbines. Some snapdragons and zinnias will also breed true to type from seed. Even a few bulbs -- such as species tulips, Siberian squill, and striped squill -- readily can be grown from saved seed.
Seed Saver's Exchange (www.seedsavers.org) in Decorah, Iowa, is the epicenter of the heirloom seed movement. Since the mid-1970s, this nonprofit organization began actively promoting the preservation and exchange of heirloom seed varieties among its members. Members and nonmembers alike can order seeds from its extensive catalog.
Other places to order heirloom seeds include Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com), Heirloom Seeds (www.heirloomseeds.com), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) and Ronniger's Potato Farm (www.ronnigers.com).
Many other popular seed companies offer heritage and heirloom vegetables and flowers in their catalogs as well.