the Seed You Save

digitS'

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Some of you have considerably more knowledge and experience with saving seed. Some of you have considerably more of an understanding of the nature of seed.

The science is somewhat daunting. Just some of the simple stuff: the seed consists of both the endosperm and the embryo. The embryo is a tiny plant. The endosperm serves as food for the plant. Yes, there are plants already in that packet of seeds! There are also nutrients to sustain them during the first days of their growth.

I appreciate seed companies that provide some information on their germination tests. I'm not sure that any commit to packaging seed that is less than a year old. We can rest assured that seed can be stored dormant for several years. No question that some viability is lost over time, however.

My seed saving techniques must be just about the simplest possible. A primary concern is that the seed is dry and, for that, I gain assistance from a dry, late-season environment. Anyway, I'm comfortable with 2, 3, 4 year-old tomato seed, for example. Older than that, the seedlings may be delayed and have too much competition from their fresher cousins growing nearby. Their slower emergence puts them at a disadvantage in competing for light and moisture. All that, unless I give them special treatment.

Fresh seed makes a difference. I'm wondering if it makes a difference both with the embryo and the endosperm food the tiny plant requires. We are told that carbohydrates change over time with sugars becoming more complex starches. I wonder if that process continues and also puts the older embryos at a disadvantage.

At any rate, the eggplant seedlings that I saved in 2018 are yards ahead of the purchased eggplant seed. Now, I'm beginning to see that with the tomatoes. If you don't save seed, maybe you should!

Steve
 

Ridgerunner

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I'm all in favor of saving seeds when it is practical for you to do so for many different reasons. The cost of the seeds, cost of shipping if they are shipped, you have varieties you want, you have an idea how that specific strain of that variety grows for you, it's fun, and I think it's a practical skill to have. It doesn't have to be that hard.

Viability doesn't just mean if it germinates but how it grows. It's not just how or how long the seed is stored that affects that. The parent stock, the nutrients it is grown in, growing season (temperatures, moisture, maybe even sunlight), maturity at harvest, who knows what else affects it. In some ways it is kind of remarkable how well most seed does.

Forgetting about joint ownership, each seed company is run by different people. They grow their seeds (or get them) in different soils. Those were grown by different people probably using somewhat different techniques, possibly harvested at different stages of maturity. They may use different methods to separate, dry, store, and package the seeds. Some are treated against certain diseases or parasites. Although they may be the same variety, the parent stock can be different. Some use more organic methods than others. While I suspect most major seed companies use pretty similar techniques there can be some differences in the final product.

Some seed companies print on the package what year the seeds were packaged for, some may not. Have you noticed some seed companies having sales toward the end of the year when they may be clearing out inventory? For the vast majority of seeds I have no problems using older seeds if they have been stored properly.

I think this may be germane to your topic. This spring (you might call it winter) I planted 93 bean seeds from beans I saved in 2017, so they were 1-1/2 years old. Of these 93 seeds, 93 germinated. Not all germinated at exactly the same time. Four were so late I started to replant them, but when I carefully scraped away dirt I saw that they were sprouting so I left them alone. All those are now growing but I plan to watch them to see if they are any less robust or productive at the end of the day. Yes, we know how plans go.
 

flowerbug

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i try to keep seeds from the things we grow the most of, but i have gotten out of the habit of just randomly saving seeds from every plant i come across because it ended up that nobody really wanted them so i ended up mixing them all up and throwing them around the bare spots and seeing what came up and survived.

aside from beans and peas i try to keep the squash, onions and some of the other plants seeds refreshed from time to time. garlic of course, but those are cloves/scapes.

my experiences so far with seed saving is that most of what i do save seems to hold up ok. i refresh some seed stocks each year so eventually i get most of what i commonly grow redone. and then some i just select at random to plant because they need it even if i don't grow a lot of them anyways.

mostly though i try to develop new things and so that means planting a lot of experimental beans and hoping something comes of it. it is fun. i wish i had acres and acres and minions, oh and room to store things and spread out when sorting so i can not have to put things away to take out other things all the time.
 

ducks4you

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It's a toss of the dice with old seeds. I bought one package of cheap generic cherry tomato seeds and they really haven't done well. The beefsteak and slicing tomato seeds that I started were all older than the cherry tomato seeds and have done much better, looking much healthier. Today I bought 2 packages of Burpee hybred super sweet cherry tomatoes (or whatever they are called--packages are in the kitchen, I am upstairs right now), and I will be replanting some of the pots tomorrow. I started the original group of cherry tomatoes nearly one month ago and they OUGHT to be 3-4 inches tall by now, but they are hardly growing, and all are in 4 inch pots with room for more soil on a heat mat and under a grow light with timer, 14 hrs/day. I keep the tray wet and each one has a ziplock bag cover.
The bigger sized tomato seeds that I started 2 weeks ago ARE 2 inches tall and looking fine.
Glad I started early. It is almost time to start sweet corn inside!
 
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Zeedman

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Don't know how I missed this thread so long...

My own observations, for what they are worth. I've been collecting & saving seeds seriously since 2000, and presently maintain about 300+ varieties, of many different species. I've definitely noticed an increase in seed life & germination rates, especially after 2-3 generations. I attribute this improvement primarily to several factors:

As Carol Deppe stated in one of her books, whenever you save seed, you are breeding - intentionally or not. The seed you save will be from plants that survived your soil, climate, culture, diseases & insects - those that are poorly adapted will either die, or produce a smaller amount of seed. That means that over time, plants grown from saved seed are more likely to prosper in those same conditions than the original seed. The degree to which this improvement continues in successive generations varies; having a greater genetic variation to start with, and an initially large population to select from, will yield the best results. The Pentagreen okra that I grow suffered about 30-50% losses to early wilt the first two generations; now in its 5th generation, the losses are few & far between. Thus far this year, with just under 100 plants, all are healthy & beginning to bear.

The second reason that saved seed may be more vigorous than purchased seed, is that the gardener has total control of the seed, from harvest to storage. When I am growing beans expressly for seed, I can use wider spacing than I would for food use... resulting in a slightly lower yield per row foot, but larger, healthier seed. We can go to extremes that are not possible commercially - how many who save bean seed would run out before (or during?) a rain storm to save the dry pods from damage? (Been there, done that, will again) We can sort & select only the healthiest seed, both prior to storage, and before planting.

We also, should we choose, have far more control over storage conditions. Commercial seed is highly controlled too - until it is packaged & sold. Paper envelopes, in seed racks at ambient temperature & humidity, are suitable for only short-term storage. As seed savers, we skip that step, thus the seed is always kept in controlled conditions. Seed that is properly dried, stored in air-tight containers, and kept in a cool location, will have much longer seed life... perhaps much longer than the seed longevity charts indicate. Seed that is frozen in sealed containers can remain viable for decades.

The one possible downside of home-saved seed? The possibility of crossing, and the loss of desired characteristics. Most tomato crosses result in small fruit of inferior quality. Most snap bean crosses - even with other snap beans - result in some degree of strings and/or fiber in the immature pods. Most squash crosses (especially with C. pepo varieties) will be visually interesting, but have poor table quality. Carrots & radishes are quite likely to cross with their wild cousins.

Nearly all crosses can be prevented, often by simple procedures... but that would be better discussed on another thread.

Forgetting about joint ownership, each seed company is run by different people. They grow their seeds (or get them) in different soils. Those were grown by different people probably using somewhat different techniques, possibly harvested at different stages of maturity. They may use different methods to separate, dry, store, and package the seeds. Some are treated against certain diseases or parasites. Although they may be the same variety, the parent stock can be different. Some use more organic methods than others. While I suspect most major seed companies use pretty similar techniques there can be some differences in the final product.

Sometimes true, sometimes not. Many seed companies buy at least part of their seed wholesale from seed growers, who may supply many different companies. Several years ago, I began receiving many requests for a lima bean that I grow, Sieva. It had suddenly disappeared commercially, from many of the companies which had previously offered it. It turned out that most of those companies obtained their seed from a single grower, who had a crop failure the previous year. The few smaller companies who did grow their own Sieva quickly sold out. Several companies stepped in to grow seed crops (including SSE) but it was two years before Sieva was again widely available.
 

digitS'

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I'm just going to throw this out there as an appreciation for those people, individuals and companies, who make some real efforts to save quality seed. I'm not saying that we all cannot. I'm saying that I appreciate those who are in the seed trade.

I intended to have a picture to go with this. It would be of a mustard plant that I have for seed this year. I can't find a time to have it in good light. Because? Because it has a poor growing location.

Mustard is quick maturing. That plant is already setting seed. It can grow there - outta the way. You see, that's important to me. I'm trying to make good use of my growing space for veggies and flowers.

So, plants for seed are often in outta the way locations. Usually, they are very limited in number. I have sometimes only had one tomato plant and put too much confidence in it as a source for seed. I'm coming around to realize that this is foolhardy!

They cross. I've tossed seed because I can't trust it after one of my limited trials of a few of the offspring. Last year, I felt that I had to turn to a seed company to replenish seed for one tomato variety. I wanted, at least, some in my garden but that variety had never caught on in popularity and there were almost no commercial sources.

I found one. Yay! But, give people like @Zeedman , @Bluejay77 , etc. their due. They have taken on some real responsibility. Also, there are conscientious commercial outfits out there. They aren't just trying to make a fast buck, flip some seed ... It's difficult for the backyard gardener to know who and where these people are. I'm glad they are there and we can talk about them on TEG.

Back to that mustard plant: I know that it isn't what I had about 25 years ago, a twisted-stem variety from, I think, Evergreen Seed. In the best of locations, it doesn't grow like that one. What happened to the original twisted-stem characteristic? Danged if I know! What it still has is good flavor so ... aaannd, I didn't really care about the stem being twisted or not ;). Chuckle ...

Simple Steve
 

ducks4you

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I have saved enough sunflower seeds to equal $6/worth in the package. NO LONGER paying a high price for 20 seeds. I have the seeds drying in a dish that goes under a pot, and sitting on my south facing kitchen window sill, so that they get the sun and REALLY dry out. I was surprised at how many seeds were eaten by the birds, but they gotta eat, too.
 
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