To save or not to save? A quick guide to seed saving
The title of this blog is in reference to seed saving. I have done a lot of seed saving over the recent years and would consider myself fairly confident in not only how to harvest, dry and store the seeds but also the more technical things like controlling cross pollination. I am not in any way discouraging people from saving seed (which is absolutely vital) but merly highlighting the pros and cons. Anyone wishing to learn seed saving or simply need advice needs to buy the Seed Savers Handbook. It has all the information you will ever need on saving seeds. This is one of the books I never travel without. Seed Savers also has meetings in most areas of Australia (Click here to find your local group) which is a great way to meet people as well as learning about seed saving and usually coming home with a rather large bag of goodies for free.
The positive things about seed saving is the fact that the next generation of seeds are much better on your property than the ones you initially grew (Things like drought hardiness and cold/heat tolerance to name a few) and that germination of those seeds actually improves. It needs to be said that if you are not seed saving correctly then this will not be the case and is better avoided so as not to breed weaklings. I have two recent examples of germination improving. “Black Beauty” Zucchini and “Golden Bantum” Sweetcorn. Both of these seeds were bought from Diggers in 2009 and germination was around 60-70%. This year both seeds have seen 90-100% germination and I have sowed at least 100 of each seedlings for sale at the market.
Space can be an issue when saving seeds and is impossible to do if you are growing vegetables in traditional rows and rotating regularly as letting the plants go to seed can take (sometimes) double the amount of time than it took to get the plant to harvest age. In that time you could have put several new plants in that space and got them going. From a monetary perspective you need weigh up the cost of that piece of land to you. Is it better to save the money of a packet of seed and lose out on planting 2 capsicum plants which cost way more than a packet of seeds. The issue I am raising is that space is at a premium and seeds are widely available. We should be supporting the small companies that breed their own heirloom seed like Diggers ,Greenpatch and Green Harvest while encouraging people to start local seed businesses where the seeds will be better suited to our own climate (and Seedsavers too).
My seed saving methods have changed in recent months so I can control space more efficiently. My plan is to grow row crops on the back of my property but also plant a couple of those plants (at the same time) that I want to save seed from in the front of the property where the perenial/permaculture/mess/flower garden currently is. I only save seed from one variety per plant group at one time to stop cross pollination but I do not hand pollinate plants and then exclude insects to stop further cross pollonation. for an example of this if I wanted to keep Broccoli seed I would need to make sure that the Broccoli was the only Brassica that was flowering at that time. Things like Cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Cauliflower and Brussel sprouts would all need to be harvested prior to flowering. There is no sure way to ensure purity unless you actually exclude insects completely as small insects like ants pollinate too and you can never know exactly what your neighbours are growing at the same time.
Some plants are easy to save without too much loss of space as the harvested fruits/veg (Note they are mostly fruit) contain the seed. Some examples of these are Sweetcorn, Zucchini, Pumpkin, Tomato, Capsicum, Beans, Peas and Cucumber. You still need to read up on how to save the seeds as most of the for mentioned fruits/veg need to stay on the plant until they are ready to fall of naturally.