In a Post WCE, Where to get the Best Quality Seeds?

The simple answer is “from yourself”.  The only way this can happen is if you are already practicing the skills you need to secure the best possible seeds for next year’s crops.  Sure, many gardeners will tell you to choose the best plants to get the best seeds, but what they don’t tell you is how to consistently improve, over time, your ability to harvest the best produce possible.  As a matter of fact, you could produce a new variety of seeds through your efforts.

Start with the best quality seed you can get.  Seeds are expensive, so do your research.  Just because you have bought this or that brand for year after year does not mean you are in fact buying the best.

One of the most important things you can do is to keep a proper journal about your garden exploits.  Write down everything, every year.  Date every page.  Did it rain today?  How much?  Was it hotter or colder than normal today than last year on this day? Note it and log it.  What did you plant today?  Remember to log the germination rate each day.  There is no detail too small to consider adding to the journal about your garden or fields.  Why?  Because you will need that information after a WCE.  Then it will be too late to start gathering useful information for your region.  It takes years to gather what you need.  Some of it you can get from local garden experts, but your own experiences are more valuable than anyone else’s.

Test the germination rate for the seeds you plant every year.  You will know the rates for each company from which you buy seeds.  In this way you will better choose products that meet your needs best.  It is with these seeds that you will start your seed saving practices as well as your venture into creating a better and stronger variety of your favorite produce.

Since accuracy is important, keeping a separate journal for various produce so as not to get grape writings mixed up with apple writings might be a good idea.  Now for the good stuff.

When your plants are growing in the garden, continually watch them to see which are the best and worst.  When it comes time to harvest seed, choose only to harvest from the single best plant that has the best qualities you desire.  For the next planting season complete the steps over again.  Be sure to plant these seeds away from the possibility of pollination by any other source.

Each careful harvest gains seeds that are best suited to your environment and most resistant to the pests and diseases of your region.  In this manner you will create your own variety of plants and seeds.  Those, and your reputation for seed production will be valuable after a WCE.

Saving Seeds – Or Not?

Saving seeds is one of the many benefits of growing your own produce.  As you are preparing foods to eat, you save the seeds for next year.  Simple, right?  Hold on.  Not so fast.  There are several things to consider when saving seeds from your produce.

On the farm corn, soybean, and oats were always saved after harvest for the next planting season.  Easy right?  For large scale farming at least.  But what happens to the seeds once they are “saved”?

They are tested for viability and vigor (luster).  Viability is the rate at which a lot of seeds germinates.  Vigor is the ability of seedlings to produce quality plants.  Commercially packaged seeds are tested for both vigor and viability.  Both vigor and viability decrease over time.  After a time, when a large number of seeds fail to germinate, it is safe to figure the remaining seeds will likely not produce strong seedlings.

Another consideration when saving seeds is determined by the other produce in your garden.  Squashes can cross pollinate and may cause the resulting seeds to produce plants with no fruit.  To prevent this, commercial growers isolate their crops by as much as two miles.  For this reason, it might be easier to purchase commercially packaged seeds.  Another solution might be to join with another gardener to share produce that can’t be grown together for the purposes of saving seeds.  One grows butternut squash while the other grows pumpkins, for example.

Another concern is to make certain to save seeds from each plant in your garden.  This will help with diversity and reduce inbreeding depression.  Inbreeding depression causes some seeds to not germinate, germinate at a poor rate, or to have poor quality plants.  Commercial growers save as many seeds as they can from each generation.

Considering that most people who save seeds are not going to be able to test their seeds because of the numbers required for testing, it is best to remember to save many more than you need in case your seeds fail to produce the quality of plants you expect in your garden.

Lastly, when you are saving seeds, be careful to save them in the most appropriate manner.  Most seeds will keep from three to ten years if properly harvested and kept at room temperature.  Freezing seeds can increase shelf life of some varieties of seed.  With the recent addition of hermetically sealed seed packages, seed storage is much easier and for much longer periods of time at higher viability.

For these reasons, and the fact that I don’t mind paying $1.19 or even $5.00 for seeds that I know will germinate and produce quality plants is important to me.  I don’t have time to plant seeds and then have to redo it later.  My idea of seed saving is to purchase many varieties of heirloom seeds for use every year, and some to save.  The ones I save this year I will use next year to keep them rotated just like other stored goods in my preps.

Much of the information in this article came from my latest book purchase “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds”, by Gough and Moore-Gough.  After reading it I decided saving seeds is more work than I am willing to do for some varieties, but worth it for others.  It helps to know what I can effectively manage on my own and what I can not.  Using this guide, I know I won’t be wasting time and resources trying to save seeds from certain plants.