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.