Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saving Seeds

The first thought I had about saving seeds in the beginning was "why bother?". There were all these warnings about what will cross with what and it made seed saving sound difficult.

In the end I started saving seeds because of a gardening misfortune. I had gone on vacation and when I came back all my lettuce had bolted and gone to seed. That was my first surprise, the tiny lettuce plants had just skipped turning into heads of edible lettuce and gone straight to the procreation (and bitter tasting) phase of their lives.

It wasn't until years later that I gleaned the information that lettuce will bolt for several reasons including high night time and daytime temperatures, lack of water, crowding and some say root trauma from being transplanted. From my experience, all of these seem to be real factors.

Lettuce seeds were my first attempt at seed saving simply because I was making lemonade from lemons, so to speak. If I missed eating the lettuce I could at least save the seeds and try again.

I had two types of lettuce that had come up from a "Gourmet Greens" seed mix. (one thing I enjoy about mixed seeds is that something usually comes up) and so, what I saved seeds from were a light green curly leaved lettuce and a red oak-leaf type. The red oak-leaf offspring were tough and bolted easily.

Happily it was a different story with the light green lettuce. Ten years later I am still using the yellow lettuce seed, actually, the seed from the third or fourth generations, because it turned out to be very nice and tender. It is also a beautiful bright yellow/green.

I have through the years chosen seed from heads that bolt later than all the rest, and so have developed a lettuce that is pretty darn tough in the elements but tender in the salad. This year I resisted eating the very nicest head I've ever grown so that I can save it's seed. I will plant it's seed this fall for my Maritime Garden.

These are Chioggia Beets going to seed. I love their red and white striped flesh. It's the only type of beet that I planted this year.

My second surprise back then was how many seeds came from one plant. It was then that I started to realize just how economical it is to save seed yourself. One lettuce plant will give you about two dozen packets worth of seed. Let's see... at 2.99 a packet that is 71.00 dollars worth of seed. Lettuce seed, properly stored, is good for at least three years. I've used it as late as 5 years.

Look to Seed Savers for instructions on how to save seeds for several specific vegetables and flowers. Just save a few a year and you will see how easy and fun it is. And how much money it will save you!

I avoid the cross pollinating problem (although it isn't always a problem as proven by my very first seed saving, it just depends on how it gets pollinated) by simply letting only one kind of lettuce go to seed at any given time. One year I will save one type and the next year another. Or I can speed it up by saving one type in the spring and one type in the fall.

Some things don't need to be saved by seed. Potatoes and Raspberries are great to plant from year to year.

These raspberries have sprung up where they don't belong. I will be moving them to a new row in another berry patch up the hill.

It's easy to save seeds for most plants, and it's fun. It brings an extra element of excitement and satisfaction to my garden to know where my seeds came from and to be part of the full cycle of my carefully tended plants.

These are spinach seeds on the stalk.

Here is a little film of me processing my spinach seeds, and the chickens are very interested.


  1. I got here reading your April 34th post. I've got a head of cabbage raising up out of it's little bed of leaves. I thought it might be going to seed and wanted to save some of the seed from it. In reading, some say to bring the plants indoors over the winter, others say to harvest the head and leave the rest. Can you tell me what to do? The particular one I'm talking about was grown from seed, not transplanted.

  2. Hi TB,
    I see by your profile that you are in Tennessee. I don't think your winters are nearly cold enough to warrant taking your cabbage plant indoors.
    Some cabbage are biennial which means they will hold a head for a long time and then finally bolt (go to seed). Some will bolt fairly soon after making a head. All of this will be effected by your local weather and climate.
    If you want to save the seed of your cabbage,I'd suggest just letting it do it's thing where it is growing.
    First it will make a head and hold it for a certain amount of time, then the head will begin to crack open and the bloom stem will come up out of the middle of that. Let the seed pods mature on the plant until they are brown and dry or if the Fall wet weather comes before they can finish drying, cut the bloom stem and hang it in the house or barn until it dries.
    Good luck and good saving!

  3. Thank you so much! I'll leave it be and see what happens. This was a particular variety that I bought for hot weather. We do live 1880 feet above sea level, and, like our neighbors, did not take that into consideration the first year. We lost a lot and burned a whole lot more wood as well. We got snowed in for over two weeks cumulative. It's been difficult to get used to and to change everything! It still gets too hot for some things, so it's a real balancing act!


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