Tag Archives: open pollinated seeds

Seed Saving for Beginners

Saving seed and heirloom varieties is extremely important work, whether on a large scale like at Southern Exposure or a smaller scale like a family’s backyard garden. Saving seed helps to preserve genetic diversity, provide people with secure food sources, and connect people to the earth and their local community.

Unfortunately saving seeds isn’t as simple as harvesting and cleaning your seeds. First you need to ensure you have the right kind of plants to start with.

Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid

In order to save seed that will “breed true” or have the same characteristics as its parents you need to start with open pollinated or heirloom seeds or plants. All heirlooms are open pollinated but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms.

Open Pollinated

Open pollinated simply means that a variety has been bred and then maintained until it was genetically stable. This means that if you save seed from an open pollinated individual that seed will grow plants with the same characteristics as its parent plants.

Heirlooms

Heirlooms are just open pollinated varieties that have been passed down for many generations. While there are a few definitions, at SESE we describe heirlooms as varieties dating from before 1940. Unlike modern varieties that have been developed for use with modern industrial agriculture and our global food system these varieites were grown, saved, and cherished by small farmers and gardeners.

Hybrids

Hybrids on the other hand are not genetically stable. They are the seed from two seperate varieites being crossed. While their first generation traits are predictable they would not be if you were to again save seed. The second generation seed can have characteristics from one or both of the parents or entirely new characteristics altogether.

Hyrbrids are not GMO or inherently bad. In fact many people grow them for their “hybrid vigor” which can make them grow faster than their open pollinated counter parts.

Choosing a Variety

Obviously you’ll want to choose a variety you love and care about. Maybe you fell in love with an heirlooms story or your family just can’t eat enough of your a certain variety. Whatever the case, it’s much easier to stay motivated throughout the season and proccess if you’re really invested.

If you’re a first time seed saver you may also want to consider choosing from a few easy vegetables. Squash, cucumbers, beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers are all great choices for beginners.

Planting

If you want to grow plants to save seed there’s a couple things you need to consider. First many plants require other plants of the same variety to pollinate with and produce viable seed. Also for this reason seperate varieties should be kept a certain distance apart to avoid cross pollination. For more about how to plan a seed saving garden check out this post:

Garden Planning for Seed Saving

Selection

Even if you don’t have longterm goals for changing or creating a new variety selecting which seed to save is still important. You want to save seeds from healthy and productive plants that have desirable traits.

Harvesting the Seed

Tomatoes

Old German Tomato

To save seed from tomatoes you should harvest them when they’re fully ripe. Then the flesh can be seperated from the seeds and gel that surrounds them. The gel and seeds should be placed in a glass container with a bit of water and lightly covered. This mixture should be stirred twice a day unil the seeds sink to the bottom. The liquid can then be poured off and the seeds rinsed and spread on a towel to dry.

Peppers

Cayenne, Long Red Hot Pepper

Peppers are much easier to save seed from than tomatoes because their seeds lack that gelatinous coating. Wait until the pepper is over ripe, it should begin to wrinkle, and then harvest the seeds and spread them out to dry.

Cucumbers

Mexican Sour Gherkin (Mouse Melon, Sandita)

A ripe cucumber for eating is not the same as a ripe cucumber for seed saving. Cucumbers you wish to save seed form should be allowed to ripen on the vine until they’re yellow or brown in color. Then they need to cure for an additional two weeks or until mold begins to appear. Then the seeds can be scooped out and fermented in a jar just like tomato seeds.

Peas & Beans

Creel Crowder Southern Pea (Cowpea)

Harvest your peas and beans when the pods have turned brown. Then dry them in a single layer for 1-2 weeks until they’re crisp and dry enough that you can here the seeds rattle in the pods. They can be threshed individually or stomped or beaten in a pillow case to remove the pods and then winnowed.

Squash

Candy Roaster Melon Winter Squash

Winter squash, summer squash, and pumpkins are all harvested in the same method. Wait until the fruit is hard and large to harvest. Then cure for 1 month at room temperature before removing the seeds. Wash seeds thoroughly and lay out in a single layer to dry for 3 weeks.

Storage

All seeds should be stored in air tight containers in a cool dry place. Some people choose to add a small amount of silica desiccant in with their seeds to absorb moisture. It’s also important to note that different types of seeds have different lifespans.

 

Saving seed really isn’t difficult. It’s a great way to connect with land and a bit of history. Start saving seeds this season or making a plan for next year’s garden! For more information check our Seed Saving Guides in our Growing Guides Library.

Tomato Varieties: Finding the Right Heirloom Tomato Seeds

A tomato rainbow- cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, brandywine tomatoes, paste tomatoes.

Tomatoes are a great place to start when it comes to planning your garden.  Since there are so many great varieties of tomatoes it can be hard to figure out where to start.  You might be tempted to plant tomato seeds for each of them!  But, if you are limited by garden space, time, and tummies for them all to go, then it is probably a good idea to think about what you want to use them for and which flavors suit you best.

Heirloom tomatoes have gained some popularity in the past few years.  It seems like: once you go heirloom you never go back.  For the most part this is true – most varieties developed before 1940 were bred for great flavor.  Some heirloom tomatoes were also developed for growing conditions – such as short summers or resistance to plant diseases like the dreaded late blight.  So, it is important to note, that just because a tomato variety is an heirloom doesn’t guarantee that it will be delicious (although it’s a good indication).

Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato- sometimes called a black tomato

Cherokee Purple is a beefsteak, heirloom tomato variety.  These tomatoes hold a rare distinction of actually having a purple color.  Most ‘purple’ tomatoes are more pink than purple.  The Cherokee Purple tomato also has a distinctive interior.  The flesh has a rich dark color while the  locule (the cavity where the tomatoes’ seeds are contained) filling has a deep  green color.  The tomato’s flavor is rich and juicy.

Heirloom -Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes

The Yellow Brandywine tomato has all the delicious flavor of a traditional Red Brandywine tomato.  The fruits are a rich yellow orange color,and have a smooth texture.  Yellow Brandywine fruits often have some ribbing and generally weigh 1-2lbs, definitely a beefsteak tomato. If the tomato plants experiences drastic shifts in temperature fruit shapes can become irregular.

Eva Purple Ball Heirloom Tomato

The Eva Purple Ball heirloom tomato plants take about 78 days before harvest.  Fruits are great all around tomatoes they can be sliced and  for sandwiches, cooked down into tomato sauce, and even dehydrated.  Eva Purple Balls produce uniform sized fruits that are resistant to cracking and rarely have blemishes.

Green Zebra - tomato

The Green Zebra tomato retains its green color after it ripens. It has a good earthy flavor and is popular with tomato aficionados.  Although this tomato was developed in 1985, it can certainly hold its own in a garden with heirloom tomatoes.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

This cherry tomato wins taste test after taste test with its sweet flavor.  The tomato plants produce high yields of tiny currant sized fruits.  If you are going to plant this tomato in your garden you will certainly need to either place a cage around it or steak it.  Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant tends to sprawl.

Roma VFN Paste Tomato

The Roma VFN tomato is a great example  of a tomato that has not only been selected for flavor but for disease resistance as well. While no plant can ever be 100% safe in the garden the growing tomatoes should not suffer from Veritcillium Wilt, Alternaria stem cranker, or Fusarium wilt- race 1.  This open pollinated tomato variety is widely adapted to grow in a wide range of climates and growing conditions.