Gardening with Laurie: Seed saving

By Laurie Brown
Reader Columnist

Some gardeners at some point want to save seeds from their favorite varieties, be they vegetables or ornamentals. There are several reasons for doing this: You can save money. Seeds get more expensive all the time; you can keep seed lines going, as some are getting hard to find in catalogs; and you can save from the plants that seem best adapted to your area.

Maple seeds. Courtesy photo.

First, you always save the seeds from the best plant. If one of your tomatoes ripens earlier than the others of the same variety, save the seeds from that one. If one plant has larger flowers or a nicer color, save from that plant. Never save seed from a weak, diseased, or spindly plant unless you have no other choice, like when ALL the hollyhocks have rust. 

Second, save seed from open pollinated (heirloom) plants. Plants that are F1 hybrids will not produce seeds that grow true to type. It’s a myth that they revert to some primordial wild thing. You may get a perfectly good plant, but it won’t be exactly like the F1 plant. It may make smaller fruit or ripen more slowly, or not be as vigorous. It may lack disease resistance. It can be worth experimenting with seeds from F1 plants; for instance, when the producers of seed of the F1 tomato ‘Dona’ quit selling it, people started saving and breeding the seed, selecting every summer from the best, until they had a stable open pollinated ‘Dona’ tomato plant. It’s not exactly like the old F1, but it’s darn close! 

Third, plants in a mixed planting can cross pollinate. If you have several colors of zinnias growing together, bees can visit different colored flowers and swap pollen between them. This will affect what color plants grow from their seeds. To make sure this doesn’t happen, either isolate the plant or cover the blossoms with a paper bag or old nylon stocking as soon as it opens. You can uncover it after the flower loses its petals — it can’t exchange pollen by then — but make sure to tie something around its stem so you know which one it was. (Note: Remember that melons and squash HAVE to be pollinated by a male flower! You can do this by taking the male flower and rubbing the stamen on the pistil of the female, and THEN covering the female flower)

Fourth, after you have gathered the seed they must be dry before storage. Lay them out on paper towels for a day or two after separating them from their pods and removing debris. Store them in an airtight container, like a pill bottle. My favorite seed storage containers are the ones that blood glucose test strips come in — the tops have desiccant in them. If you know someone with diabetes, have them save those containers for you! Mark the containers clearly with variety and year, and put the containers in a cool, dry place after filling.  

If you’re into heirloom plants and saving seeds, there is a seed library at the East Bonner County Library on Division. You are free to take what seed you need, with the understanding that you will do your best to bring back more in fall after you harvest the seed. And it’s always nice if you can expand the library by adding a variety they don’t have already, say, a tomato you got the seeds for elsewhere.

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