The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Introduction to Seed Saving

Okra seedsMany homesteaders save seeds because they don't trust the big companies to keep producing varieties they care about.  Skinflints like me save seeds because seed prices have been skyrocketing in the last couple of years.  Whatever your reasoning, saving seeds can be pretty painless if you understand a bit of plant biology.

First of all, let me say up front that we don't save all of our seeds --- we basically stick to the really easy species.  Some types of vegetables --- like carrots and onions --- are just not worth bothering with since they are biennials and take two years to mature and produce seed.  Other types of veggies, like lettuce, have seeds that I find hard to catch and harvest at the right time.

Even within certain vegetable species, some varieties are much easier to save than others.  Many of the varieties you'll pick up at the local feed store or big box store are hybrids, produced by mating two different types of plants together.  Gardeners are often impressed by hybrids because of hybrid vigor --- the tendency of hybrid offspring to be bigger and sometimes better than either of their parents.  Unfortunately, if you save seeds from a hybrid, your seeds will sprout into plants that all look different and that often are not as exciting as the hybrid you started with.  If you want to save seeds, look for varieties marked as heirlooms --- these varieties will breed true, with your seeds sprouting into plants just like their parents.

Saving seeds in a box, divided up by categoryThe rest of this week's lunchtime series will explain how to save seeds from some easy vegetable varieties.  But before you go, a couple more words of wisdom.  First of all, you won't need to save seeds every single year --- many seeds last up to five years, so you can easily skip a season or two and your seeds will still sprout.  Second, most places recommend that you store your seeds in an airtight container, but I have to admit that I'm lazy and just throw my homemade paper packets into a cardboard box, with no ill effects.  I do put in dividers, though, and sort the seeds by plant family and growth habit so that I know what I've got.

Finally, don't forget the plants that you can reproduce without resorting to seeds.  If you have some leftover potatoes next spring, you can just cut them up and put them in the ground.  Garlic, of course, can be divided into individual cloves and planted in the fall.  This year, we also had great luck with sprouting our leftover sweet potatoes to make slips.  You can do it too!

This post is part of our Seed Saving lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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