"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Save Seeds?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Gandhi

The author of the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog has suggested a "seed week" from the 22nd~29th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. You can submit a link to her from an old post or a recent one and this is not limited to one post only. So please join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.

My wife and I became seriously involved/obsessed with the saving of our own vegetable seed a few years ago and have experimented with collecting seed from almost every edible plant that we have grown at one time or another, mostly with great success. Because it can be, and has become, such an immense project to save all of our own seeds we have decided to focus the majority of our efforts going forward on the crops that are most important to us, the core crops that we could not live without. Vegetables like beets, parsnips, carrots, potato tubers, turnips, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucurbits, onions, beans, peas, celery, corn, peppers, lettuce and other greens like parsley, kale, and various types of chicory all make the list.

We are working on a plan to continue saving these seeds using a 2-5 year rotation so as not burden ourselves with too much at once, as has been the case the past few years, and to help avoid cross contamination of the many open pollinated varieties like cucurbits and brassicas. While we will continue to save the seed of herbs, flowers, and anything else that catches our fancy it will not be our main focus to do so. Once I finish getting the entire rotation schedule worked out on paper I will try to post it online.

My wife, bagging a Sweet Chocolate pepper flower with a muslin sack to avoid cross pollination as we grow all of our varieties so close to each other.

This chervil seed was ready to be harvested and will be saved every other year as seed older than that seems to have fairly low germination rates.

"Golly Mike, why bother with all of this when the seeds are so readily available via seed catalogues?"

Very simple, my thoughts are that to grow a plant and not know how to save it's seed is a missed opportunity to take part in that plants full life process. More than that I believe it is our right and responsibility to do so or at least, and most importantly, to have some inkling of how to do so in order to maintain our subsistence pattern lifestyle and be able to share the knowledge with future generations. I also have no wish to be under the control of the system. The system being big agribusiness with its rules, regulations and control (GMO), or at the whim of seed companies that may be out of stock, and of course I have some worries over the future availability of non-hybrid seed coupled with the ever increasing expense of it all.

As an example, something I was talking to a fellow blogger about the other day comes to mind. Every year I am in a panic when it comes to certain vegetables whose seed I have yet to start saving on a regular basis...like onion seed. I often have a real dickens of a time getting my onion seed in a timely manner regardless of how soon I order it and the varieties of storage onions that grow well for us are very limited...there's like three of them. I have started ordering a couple years worth of the seed just in case but onion seed has a pretty short term viability of around 1-2 years after which the germination rate decreases significantly. So I feel the strong need to save my own and relieve myself of this yearly allium hysteria. We want to have seed and food sovereignty.

Biennial salsify and scorzonera flower their 2nd year and one must be diligent in saving the seed lest it all float away on a windy day.

That said, I think it is "very" important to support both small and large trustworthy seed companies that will continue to provide us with all of the seeds that we do not save ourselves. Quality companies like Johnny's Select Seeds (?), Territorial(?), Fedco, Bountiful Gardens, Seed Savers Exchange (?), Ed Hume, Annapolis Valley Heritage, and many others that work so diligently to help to preserve our vegetable and herb seed diversity and availability.

“The garden seeds being dropped from the catalogues are the very best vegetable varieties we will ever see.” ~ Kent Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange

There are numerous other reasons to save your own seed, including the possibility of a plant adapting to ones specific environmental conditions over time. This is something we have experienced in our own gardens and has been especially noticeable with our peas and tomatoes becoming much less prone to disease compared to how they were many years ago, we have had no issues at all the past few seasons.

After they are processed our tomato seeds are placed on screens for a couple days until thoroughly dry. These seeds can easily last over ten years if stored properly - cool, dry, dark environment.

Believe me, I totally understand that many people just do not have the leeway for a garden full of plants bolting to seed as it would take up the entire garden area leaving no room at all for the real food crops. We are very fortunate to have enough extra ground for these projects and this post is simply an expression of my thoughts on what we will be working towards going forward as it relates to the saving of our own seed. Besides, it is very empowering, empowerment that is created by knowing that one can depend upon him or herself for their own food. As they say "He who controls the seed also controls the feed."

Valerian seed can be difficult to save as it also so easily flutters away in the breeze once mature.

These are four popular seed growing and saving books that I have collected over the years and am constantly using as references.

Another seedy book that I have yet to run down is "Saving Seeds As If Our Lives Depended On It" by Dan Jason.

Here are two excellent PDF links that cover, in fairly good detail, how to save the seed off many vegetables that are commonly grown in the average garden. ↓

Saving Vegetable Seeds in an Urban Garden

A Seed Saving Guide For Gardeners and Farmers

To learn even more check out this very informative blog on growing and saving seed called Going to Seed: Growing Organic Seed in Eastern Canada.

On the right hand side of this picture you can see (click picture to enlarge) where I replanted a small patch of cilantro but also left a bunch of the original plants tied to a stake in order to grow and produce more seed thus allowing the plant to come full circle.

This seedy row was devoted to a variety of winter density lettuce that survived the cold months.

Beets are another biennial that we overwinter in the root cellar and then replant for seed purposes. Each of the seed clumps pictured below are actually clusters that contain multiple seeds.

Rhubarb is easy to grow and save seed from but the offspring will probably differ from the parent plant...which is what makes it fun. We grew lots of baby rhubarbs this past year.

It is best to leave your carrot seed production to the professionals.:) The carrot our pro (what a ham) is holding was grown this year from a mix of seed saved in 2009 pictured below.Again, full circle. You can read more about how we save carrot seed here.

Once it is harvested and cleaned most of our seed is then put into boxes, bags, or other containers on our porch to finish drying for a few weeks after which we pack the seed away in jars or bottles and store in a cold dry back room. They say that seeds kept in the freezer may remain viable for over 50 years. We prefer to save our seeds in smaller amounts and replenish them often rather than freezing because the environment changes so quickly that I worry seeds stored for extended periods rather than being rotationally saved and replanted will not "learn" to evolve.

Let us not forget:

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.

~ Chief Seattle, 1854


Jennifer said...

We saved a few seeds this year, mostly the easy ones like beans and peas but I intend to save everything I can in this next garden year. Beautiful post.

Robin said...

What a great and informative post! I didn't realize that you can freeze seeds.

Thanks for this posting!

Sense of Home Kitchen said...

Beautiful photos! Love the one of the tomatoes on green and the one of the dog holding a carrot. As for seed saving, I'm one of those that does not have room for both produce and seeds, but with a few plants it will be fun to experiment and learn. Very impressive what you and your wife have accomplished though.


Phoebe said...

What an amazing garden! This post has inspired me to save more seeds!

Anonymous said...

I did thought about freezing seeds, but I was worried that I would kill them that way. Thanks for this valuable information.

I have a comment regarding one of the seed companies you are mentioning. Johnny’s is reselling seeds from Seminis and the owner of Seminis is Monsanto. http://us.seminis.com/products/hg_dealer.asp so that might not be most trusted source for seeds. I hope you don’t mind me writing this information here. I am looking for a very trusted source for seeds, so I have came across this information. For now I have complete trust in one Austrian seed company.

Mrs. Mac said...

another important 'life skill' that got tossed by the wayside when our culture industrialized and abandoned the old ways. Good info here.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

spectacular! all great thoughts, as always and worth the wait! and hey! we have the same book. i find that saving seed is easier than you imagine, and if i were ever as organized as you both, i'd be in like flin. but as it is, i'll muddle thru with an envelope of "i dunno, some kind of 'mater" and be surprised. also, brother, i think they make some kind of cream for "yearly allium hysteria"
-yours in the tundra

meemsnyc said...

I too, love collecting seeds. This year I collected habanero seeds, pole bean seeds, radishes, spearmint and marigolds. I cannot wait to sow them so that I can see them grow again!

Mr. H. said...

Oxray Farm - Good for you, I think you will find it to be a most worthwhile endeavor.

Robin - Yes, supposedly frozen seeds can last for a long, long time. The concern is that they will not have adapted to environmental changes like a seed that is continuously saved and replanted will.

Brenda - Just saving the seed off of a few plants will give you an excellent idea on how the process works. As to the tomato pictures, my wife and I sell tomatoes and other plants in the spring and early summer, we staged some of our various tomato varieties for our ads...some of them turned out pretty good.

Phoebe - If you save a seed because of this post all of my words will have been worth writing...thank you.:)

Vrtlarica ana - Thank you! It is very good to question things like this and I applaud you for doing so. As far as Johnny's seed is concerned I was not aware of their affiliation with Seminis but having looked into it see that that they were doing business with Seminis well before Monsanto came along are are working towards phasing out the Seminis seeds. Their response to this can be read at


Here is another response from them on -

Jan 6, 2010 11:54 AM, Johnny's Selected Seeds added:
Johnny's is not affiliated with Monsanto. We carry 21 varieties of seeds from Seminis, which was bought by Monsanto. We are in the process of replacing all 21 varieties and will continue that effort as suitable replacements are found.

Ben Sturtevant, Public Relations
Johnny's Selected Seeds

Anyways, this is an excellent example of why we should work towards saving our own seeds. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Mrs. Mac - Yes, yes, this is exactly what it's all about...we must not lose this knowledge.

Ohio Farm Girl - Thanks Sis.:) We have a couple of the same books and yes saving seeds is easy, who cares if they get a little mixed up as long as they produce an edible food. I could use some of that cream - Yours in the frozen north.

Meemsnyc - Good job, I have yet to get decent seed off our spearmint, luckily it manages to come back every year. My radishes on the other hand go to seed almost as fast as I can plant them.:)

kitsapFG said...

I love the seed saving process but unfortunately I am one of those that lacks sufficient garden space to do both food production AND seed saving (at least not to any large degree). I do save seeds though - just confine myself to the annual seed producers and skip teh biennial plants as I do not have room to devote growing space to a plant that is only going to produce seed that year. If I had a larger growing area I would do it in a heart beat though. I save pea, bean, tomato, pepper, dill, and the cucurbit family seeds (squash, pumpkins, cukes, zukes) - at least for the open pollinated items.

As always, that was an inspiring post.

Stefaneener said...

Valuable and enjoyable. You are fortunate in the amount of space you have, but even in a small garden one can save something. I have a book review coming up that you'll enjoy, I think.

Kelle at The Never Done Farm said...

While I don't speak or even know all of the technical jargen of saving seeds, we've been saving our seeds for 10 seasons.

The only things that we consider a mainstay crop, for our family, that we can't figure out how to overwinter is Cabbage. So we've found a trustworthy source and buy our seed from them and keep them in the freezer( I might add not in a frost free freezer either, this is something to consider if you plan to freeze your seeds)

You explained it far better and with wonderful resources, thank you for sharing that with all of us.

Blessings from,
The Never Done Farm

Dani said...

Mr H

I totally agree.

I have / am growing pea's, butternut, tomatoes, onions, rocket and peppers (capsicum) from last years seed harvest. As well as approximately 34 + lemon trees which I've grown from pips.

I find it impossible to toss out the seed from anything that goes through my kitchen - must be because of my (long ago) Scottish roots :-)

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

I really like the idea of keeping seeds that can last for 3~5years as the collecting process does take time and space. This able us to have space for other plant that we wish to save with rotation. I am also getting hysterical sometimes that heirloom seeds that I like is not available on any seeds company here because of no stock anymore or they stop selling it. This drive me to collect the seeds and not to rely on buying from seeds company. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. As a novice gardener, I have to do so much guessing on how to collect seeds and sometimes end up with failures many times. It is so easy to buy seeds nowadays that people has been relying on the seeds company so much. I remember that my grandma never buy any seeds yet she grows rice and other vegetables to feed her family.

Rainsong said...

Thirty plus years poking seed into soil and I've never saved a seed (unless there was extra in the paper package). Every January I have celebrated the garden catalogs, sent in my order and waited for UPS to bring my prize. It has been on my mind to learn this mysterious art as seed orders become more oppressive to finance. I've actually been ready to learn this dying skill for a couple of years now but really wasn't sure where to start. Thanks for the link and encouragement AND for this great post as a resource. I think I'll be linking to it soon.

Mr. H. said...

Laura - The knowledge you posess from saving the perennials is what really matters and there is really no difference between perennial and biennial seed saving other then that overwintering part and of course all the room they take up in the summer garden. One of my goals for this year is going to be to get some decent cucumber seed, I always struggle with cucumber seed.

Stefaneener - We are blessed and lucky to have plenty of room which is what makes me so appreciate the unbelievable amounts of food that some people can get from smaller gardens. I can't wait to read the book review, I'm sure that I will like it a lot.

Kelle - Trust me, I struggle with all of the technical jargon too, it gives me a headache just thinking about it.:) 10 seasons of seed saving probably gives just as much if not more insight into this process then many of those who write books about the subject. Check out my post on storing cabbage, we struggled with it for years and finally figured out a good way to keep it. Of course I realize that every one of us has different storage conditions and that what works for me might not for you.

Dani - One of my favorite things is that of growing fruit trees from seed. 34 lemon trees is amazing, your going to be in the lemon business if they all grow up big and strong for you...how neat:) You will have to post on them one of these days.

Malay kadazan girl - You are thinking the same way as I am about these seeds. I grow a red endive that I really love and if I did not save my own seeds I would no longer be able to grow it as I have not been able to find it in any catalogue for a couple years now. Many of the tomatoes we grow are also not to be found anywhere but in our own seed box. You are so right in that we must go back to being more like your grandma and be seed self-reliant. Thank you so much for doing this seed week.

Rainsong - Start with one or types of seed and soon you will be addicted to this process of saving them and all of the mysteries surrounding seed saving will be revealed to you.:)

Anne said...

The important thing to remember when freezing seeds is that the moisture content has to be exceptionally low. Too much moisture in the seeds and when they freeze, it makes ice crystals which rupture the cells.

You have a lot of the same books that I do! Love them.

Onion is crazy easy, especially if any survive your storage to be planted out again.

Silke Powers said...

Wow! You have no idea how much I admire your way of life and that you enjoy it so much! Your post is so interesting and it reminded me of a radio program I once listened to about the big seed bank in Norway. I hope you are all doing well!! :) Silke

Annie*s Granny said...

I've never been one to "bother" with saving seeds until this past growing season. When I saw how much it would cost to order a packet of my new favorite pole bean, I made sure I saved more than enough seeds to plant in 2011. I had to leave them in a 42F house to finish drying, and they've sat there in their paper plates all winter. I'm hoping they give me a bumper crop of Fortex!

Geno said...

As always, a great post. And such beautiful pictures! I got the Seed to Seed book a couple years ago for my wifes birthday, and while we have not had a lot of practical use out of it yet I find it to be very informative.

Sarah said...

Here is the link for the Dan Jason book.
I have been eyeing it up for a while and want to buy it this spring when I order seeds.
I started saving seeds from the easy plants (gateway drug) and now I am moving on to the harder ones. Yes I am a total addict. If only I had more room.
I am amazed at the great germination I get from my saved seeds. How old are those seeds we buy anyway?

kelli said...

wow, great post mr. h. love the pic of rowdy!=)

though i'm not too sure of what i'm doing, i save some seeds. i could really benefit from purchasing one of the books you mentioned.

Elizabeth said...

Your posts are so wonderful.
I love how you are so passionate about growing your own and then taking the time to save seeds for future crops. We all really need to grow or at least sprout some portion of our own food. Things are getting really scary w/ our government and it may not be too long before they tell us what we can and cannot eat and grow! Not good, especially for us who love our veg!!
Peace & Raw Health,
PS You didn't mention your dandelion on the essential list. :)

LynnS said...

I believe collecting seeds from our plants is a sacred practice. Many who save seeds realize the powerful gift they have obtained.

I couldn't agree with you more. With such mistrust in large corporations and our government, my only guarantee to have the seed I want is to save the seed myself. I don't own any seed books, I'll have to buy a few you showecase this year!

Another FYI on seed companies -- the fallout between Whealey and Seed Savers. There is some power-play and politics involved so it might be worth looking into. Somewhere along the line Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has gotten involved with the large seed vault. Learning of this organization's ties with GMO/Monsanto puts Seed Savers on my 'check it more thoroughly' list. Just an fyi.

Very nice article, Mike. The bright green photos make me yearn for Spring!

Wendy said...

IT's so cool to see seeds in all their different forms as you've shown here. I like your disclaimer though b/c as much as I love the idea of saving seeds - my garden is so tiny that I can buy a pack of seeds and make them last for the rest of my life!

Kelle at The Never Done Farm said...

Thank you for the link in your reply. I guess what I was trying to convey is that they don't overwinter so that we can replant to collect seed the following season.I may give this method you shared a try to see if it will help. We have a rootcellar and our cabbage stores well( with root and hung from the ceiling of the cellar) We grow the Red Rock and it stores quite well for us, what do you think. We also store Late Flat Dutch cabbage and typically enjoy them well into end of April and beginning of May of the following season. since we built our cellar, we've had the fun tradition of fresh coleslaw for Christmas :o)

Your garden is lovely,do you water with sprinklers. Our soil is sandy, and we've found flood irrigation works best for us. Plus this isolates the water, we have a horrible problem with bindweed. This last season we made raised beds, using the sheet mulching method and so far so good,, very little bindweed. We've even planted covercrops that are supposed to choke out weeds, but not bindweed*sigh* It just grew and climbed right up the covercrop. It is the gardeners cursed weed!

Enjoy your blog, glad I followed a link from another blog to here :o)


Leigh said...

Seed week. What an excellent idea. I have a lot to learn, I admit, but am very pleased to have saved as much as I did from my 2010 garden.

I love your idea of a seed saving rotation, that's excellent. Also loved the photo of the muslin bag, another idea I'll adopt.

Lastly, thanks for the links. And thanks once again for another excellent blog post.

kelli said...

mr h. - this may seem like a silly question, but will seeds i purchased in '09 and '10 germinate this year? would i be better off purchasing new seed?

Greenside Up said...

That's a lovely blog on seed saving. Other than a few that we've saved 'by accident', it's not something we've consciously tried to do, but as you say, so important if you're trying to lead a totally sustainable life and save them from the cooperations.

I'll keep a note of the books and put them on my 'wish list'.

Dave @ HappyAcres said...

What a great article Mike! You are so right about the empowerment part. To me, every facet of growing our own food is empowering, and saving seeds makes it even more so.

I do wish we had more room to devote to seed crops. I've saved a few seeds of special varieties, but never done anything on a scale like you all are doing. I think you may well inspire others to do more seed saving themselves.

farmer said...

great post.
I love the picture of the dog with the carrot~ to sweet!!

Ms. Adventuress said...

I am so grateful to see and learn how your seeds are saved...and love the wise reasoning of your process. What an adventure, your blog always is, for us - this is just the best (life class) ever! Thank you, so much. (And oh my, yes, the sun and food at the Tree of Life...!)

Heiko said...

Thank you bso much for this post Mr. H! My attempts at seed saving have so far been rather haphazard and dilletantical. Beans and corn were the easy ones, but tomatoes etc. never really worked for me as I didn't really know what I was doing. So I'm really happy to have all those useful links you have supplied which I shall have a good look at now, rather than applying my usual method of "let's try how this works...". Talking seeds, I have an envelope with your address on it and aubergine seeds inside it, I must get it to the post office.

Mr. H. said...

Anne - Yes, that is very good advice on freezing seeds and if I bring up the topic again I will remember to mention that. Thanks. As to the onions, the reason I have not been saving seed is that we have not until recently found the "perfect" onion for our gardens. I believe the one we will be using going forward will be "Yellow of Parma" though as it grows well from seed and holds up really well in storage. I'm excited to start growing it out for seed and will be replanting our best ones this spring.:)

Silke - Thanks so much, I have read about that seed bank and found it to be quite an amazing undertaking. We are doing great and are both very excited to finish up with all of this snowy weather so we can get on with gardening again.:)

Granny - How neat to have saved a bunch of your own bean seeds, hopefully they will be fine and provide you with the best bean plants ever.:)

Geno - That is a great book and you will get a lot of use from it in the future...and don't be dismayed by the large isolation distances suggested in the book as a person can easily work around all of that.

Sarah - Thanks for the link, I will check it out. If one has to be addicted to something seed saving is a good choice.:) You will find that the germination on your home saved seed will quite often be much better than those from the seed catalogues. The unusual thing that we have noticed is how much larger our saved seeds are than those that are purchased. How old are the ones we buy, that's a very good question...sometimes I think they are much older than the seed packet suggests.

Kelli - You will like that Seed to Seed book and are always welcome to ask us any questions about the saving of certain seeds. Your older seed packets will probably be fine depending upon what seeds they are. Check out this seed viability chart
to see how long certain seeds are supposed to remain viable, keep in mind that under good conditions they will often last much, much longer. Some of our spinach easily lasts 3-4 years or longer compared to the 1 year shown on the above chart.

Elizabeth - Yes, growing and gathering our own food is definitely our passion in life and something we will continue to do for as long as possible. I agree that we should indeed be concerned about big brother telling us what we can and can't eat or even grow. When I say chicory that includes dandelions..I would never be without my dandelions.:)

Lynn - "Seed to Seed" would be my book recommendation and is a definite must own at this point in time. It is really sad to hear about SSE and I will have to look into that as well. I never have been a member but have considered it in the past. If they are in any way involved with Monsanto, one of the most evil corporations on this planet, then that is the exact opposite of what Kent Whealy wanted. There are a couple of very trust worthy seed companies in Canada but alas they will not ship to the U.S. We will just have to do the best we can with the saving of our own seeds and keep in mind what you and I discussed a while back if times get desperate in the seed arena.

Wendy - A small garden is always on my mind when I write these posts as at one time, in a different location, ours was but a 4 x 8' raised bed...but so much fun.:) At that same time we lived next to a couple that ran a Chinese restaurant and the husbands older mother had a huge garden in the back yard with all sorts of greens growing that she watered by hand with a bucket and scoop every day. I so wish I could have picked her brain about gardening but she did not speak any English nor I Chinese...I would have no doubt learned a lot from her.

Mr. H. said...

Kelle - We also have a sandy loam type soil but it is fairly well built up now so that the water doesn't drain away to quickly but we do have a hard time keeping it from drying out in July and August. 2/3 of our garden is watered with overhead sprinklers and the other part soaker hoses. Our favorite storage cabbages are ruby ball and red acre but we did grow re rock this year for the first time and it seems to be holding up quite well too. I never have any luck storing the green cabbages for extended periods and they are all used for sauerkraut.

Leigh - I'm glad you enjoyed the post and yes the rotational seed saving thing is a must for us because we were becoming overwhelmed without a good schedule. A fellow blogger (Stefaneener↑) recommended those muslin bags and they really do work great for small flowers like those on peppers and cucumbers.

Greenside Up - We also didn't use to save nearly as many seeds as we do now until I was unable to purchase a few of my favorite plants because they had been dropped from the seeds companies catalogues. Along with that issue I have found that I enjoy the seed saving aspect of gardening almost as much as growing the vegetables.:)

Villager - As with gardening it is not how much one grows or how much seed one saves in so much as that we have done some of both and gained important knowledge in doing so. I hate that I am always using that "empowerment" word but it so very much fits how we feel about our food. I am glad that you have the same understanding of it.:)

Farmer - The dog is a hoot and loves to be the center of attention. I have never had a dog that would so easily pose for a picture as this little guy.:)

Ms. Adventuress - Send some of that sunny warm weather my way will you.:) Yes, sometimes the best lessons are those learned through real life trials and errors. I honestly think Ive learned much more about gardening from my mistakes than I ever have from our successes.

Heiko - Those links have some very good information on saving seed and believe me it is still a trial and error endeavour regardless of how many books one reads. No hurry on the Aubergine seeds as it will be some time before they can be planted.:)

Hafiz said...

After reading your post on seed saving I actually starting to save some of the seed from my garden myself. This is very exciting!! I wonder how do you save broccoli seed?

Mr. H. said...

Hafiz - I am very happy to hear that you will be saving some of your own seeds, how exciting. If you have a long enough growing season and are growing a fairly early type of non-hybrid broccoli you can harvest that first head of broccoli and then leave all of the side shoots alone to form little yellow flowers that will eventually turn into long slender pods that can be harvested for seed once they begin to dry out. If your season is shorter, like ours, it is best not to pick that first head and allow it to form a flower and then seed.

Keep in mind that all members of the "brassica oleracea" family (broccoli, brussels sprout, cauliflower, cabbage and kale) will cross pollinate with each other if allowed to flower at the same time. For the first year or so you can get away with saving seed off just one plant but over time the plants grown from this seed will start to lose vigor. So for long term seed saving it is best to plant at least 4-6 different plants for seed allowing them to cross pollinate with each other in order to ensure a reasonable amount of genetic diversity.

Here is an interesting site on saving broccoli seed -
Long Island Seed Project

Brian said...

Greetings Mike,

Another inspiring post! You make a very good case for bothering to save seeds. It is very telling of our times that one would feel compelled to actually justify this undertaking. Of course! Of course! It is more than some marginilized and obscure, 'fetishized' undertaking. We are only a couple of generations removed from a time when seed-saving was a kind of 'default knowledge' - it went with the territory - that of a lifestyle where it mattered and was consequential as to whether one had that competence. I am often incredulous that it is now often seen as some kind of rarified rocket science. Fundamentally, just do it. Just as plants want to live, they want to reproduce - as does everything alive - lest we forget. They would be only too glad to help us along in helping them fulfill their biological imperative.
Your comments about food crops vs. seed crops on a limited land base is very true, especially in relation to self-sufficiency. It certainly requires some planning and no small amount of choreography. In acquiring a working knowledge of seedsaving as well as an itimacy with the life cycles of the plants that provide the food we eat, books are useful, but they are limited. The devil is often in the details, and nothing replaces experience. For instance we are advised more or less vaguely by many books on the subject to cut a cross in the top of cabbage heads to promote stalk emergence. But how big? How deep? Does it depend on cultivar? etc. etc. I find many books are long on the esoterica of seedsaving, but short on the getting down and dirty - the nuts and bolts of how to do it.
About storage onions -I've found 'Dakota Tears' (Fedco)to be unrivalled here in eastern Canada zone 4b as a good OP yellow storage onion -sizes up beautifully, skinny necks and all. Cheers.

Mr. H. said...

Brian - Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. We do indeed live in a world that relys to heavily upon the system for all of its needs and I do worry that should times become hard many will struggle with even the most basic of tasks...like seed saving. Not that we can't all come around to re-learn these things but a person with an empty belly will be hard put to wait a year for his food to grow, and with what seeds if none have been saved.

I agree with you on the information in the books as I have struggled to apply some of these techniques to my own seed saving endeavors. Honestly, I never have understood why a cabbage needs to be cut at all as they so easily split in half on their own in the spring and send forth a seed stalk. Of course that process is helped along by our wet spring weather and perhaps not so easily acheived in a dryer climate? I don't know.

Thanks for the info. on onions, I have never heard of that variety before but will look into it. We have had the best luck with Yellow of Parma but I'm always looking for another onion to grow.

I have the Fedco page up right now and this does look like a variety that I would love to try.:)

Eliza @ Appalachian Feet said...

Your post is such an inspiration -- as I read it I realized how many more plants I would try and save seeds from this year. I am one of those gardeners with limited space, but I think your rotational method will let me maximize my seed yields from the little space I have. Thanks for taking your time and writing a meaningful, informative, and accessible post on seed saving.

africanaussie said...

So glad I found you through the seed exchange - you have lots of information here. I see you are also a sucker for quotes!

Mr. H. said...

Eliza - I'm glad you enjyed the post and very happy to hear that you will be saving more seeds. Many seeds will last for quite some time and if saved on a rotational schedule would no ttake up nearly as much room in the garden. I wish you the best of luck with your seed saving.:)

Africanaussie - Thanks for stopping by.:) As to the quotes, the late great Helen Nearing said it best;

"Quotations (such as have point and lack triteness) from great old authors are an act of filial reverence on the part of the quoter, and a blessing to a public grown superficial and external."

AJK said...

Hi Mr. H! I've been attempting to save my own seeds on what I can. Carrots, sadly cannot be done in our small plot of land. My mother thinks I'm a nutcase as I dry each group of seeds for weeks in a cool dry spot, put each seed type in small plastic sealable baggies and store them in an even larger baggie, label each type then sort them according to their families (ie- cucurbits). I call my seed box my treasure box, and I MEAN it! She just shakes her head and points to the stores full of seeds. I tell her there will come a day when these seeds I keep will be a treasure. (I think they ARE already)

I too enjoy seeing the full cycle of the plant's life.

The GMO alfalfa ruling really hurts me deep down.

Mr. H. said...

AJK - It truly is a treasure box and may indeed one day be worth its weight in gold. I have often been asked why it is that we grow our own dried beans when they can so easily and cheaply be purchased from the store. My answer is always the same - should it ever be necessary for me to grow my own I will know how to do so.

It is OK that many people do not understand why it is that we choose to save seeds and grow food, fortunately for those same people there will, hopefully, be a few of us around to teach them how to do these things in the future if/when it becomes imperative to do so.

Yes it is very sad what is going on with the GMO crops and I worry that it will eventually even affect the seeds from our own gardens. John Muire put it best when he said -

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. H,

Jan and Feb have been busy so I'm just catching up on the reads I blog.

Great seed post. I love all the photos. I'm a little envious of all the umbels you save seed from. The ambient humidity at our farm really hinders our umbel seed production.

Thanks for listing my seed blog. I'm glad you enjoy it.


Mr. H. said...

Dan - Thanks to people like you, people like me are able to learn many important things that would otherwise be difficult to grasp on our own.:)

Anonymous said...

you have me inspired...i love all that you do.Great job indeed.Mother Earth needs
more people like you...
By the way if any of you has some wild cherry seeds to share...plz email me at moidhu@intnet.mu

Heart Checker board said...

Awesome post .i hope everybody will like your post

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