Secrets to saving seeds successfully

September 23, 2011 at 10:02 AM Leave a comment

Secrets to saving seeds successfully

New guide encourages gardeners to experience plant life cycles from end to beginning to end again

  • Zinnia seeds are easy to save and store
Zinnia seeds are easy to save and store
September 21, 2011|By Kathy Van Mullekom, | 247-4781

Seeds are curious creatures. Some are so tiny, while others are so large. Inside each is a miracle waiting to happen.

The new book “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” explains how nature has excelled at saving seeds for millions of years, and how mankind can maintain collections, large or small, to help preserve genetic diversity in the plant world.

“Many folks do not experience the entire pleasure of saving their seeds and see plant lifecycles continue on from end to beginning to end again,” says Robert Gough, who co-authored the book with wife Cheryl Moore-Gough.

The two have nearly a hundred years of combined gardening experience, and have grown vegetables and fruits in five states — Virginia, Rhode Island, Maine, California and Montana. He’s professor emeritus of horticulture at the College of Agriculture at Montana State University and has written 17 gardening books and articles for national gardening magazines. She’s an adjunct assistant professor in horticulture at the university, has taught and coordinated the Montana master gardener program and has written five gardening books.

“Planting and harvesting are only two parts of the three-part sequence of saving seeds for the next crop,” says Robert.

“The mystery for many gardeners is how such a tiny bundle of life could possibly grow into a very large plant.

“Foxglove seeds, for example, are dust-like, yet they produce 4-foot-tall flowering plants.”

The 320-page book is divided into two sections. Part I is called “Saving Seeds: The Basics and Beyond.” Designed for beginners, the opening chapter gives an overview of how plants produce seeds, including explanations of important terms about flowers, pollination and seed formation that are used throughout the book.

Part 2, called “The Handbook: From Vegetables to Nuts,” is a guide for collecting, cleaning, storing and germinating seeds from specific vegetables, herbs, flowers, nuts, fruits and woody ornamentals. A glossary in the back defines terms you need to know like a filament is the tube that supports the anther, which is a sac producing and containing pollen.

Collecting seeds sounds simple enough but there are common mistakes people often make in the process, according to the Goughs.

“They do not wait long enough for the fruit to ripen fully before harvesting the seeds,” says Robert.

“This most often results in immature embryos.

“Second, people don’t dry the seeds well enough before storage. Storage requirements are crucial in improving and maintaining seed life in storage. Moisture and temperature are the two greatest detriments to saving seeds. For every 10 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature and 1 percent rise in humidity, storage seed life is halved.”

The lifespan of a seed depends from variety to variety. Seeds of species that haven’t been domesticated very much, such as maples and firs, generally store the longest, in the range of 30 to 50 years, but they also have relatively low germination rates, according to the Goughs. Seeds of domesticated species such as tomatoes and corn tend are viable for a shorter time. In general, most garden seeds keep for six to eight years, and still maintain good germination.

A bad seed is easy to spot if it rots, turns mushy or shows signs of mold. Otherwise, it’s difficult to tell if the seed simply shrivels. A rag doll test is easy to perform, and gives you an idea of what to expect for germination of your seeds.

Even though seeds promote plant diversity, feed the world with rice, corn and wheat and store well from year to year, they do not reliably encompass all plant types. Some plants, like Jerusalem artichoke and horseradish, produce seeds reluctantly, so asexual reproduction by stem cuttings, air-layering and grafting, with no fertilization involved, are best.

“If you want a duplicate of the parent plant, you cannot use seeds for propagation, so your must propagate asexually,” says Robert. “For example, apple seeds do not come true, that is, a McIntosh seed will not produce a McIntosh tree. It produces an apple tree that may or may not bear good fruit, but it won’t be McIntosh. If you want more McIntosh trees, you must propagate asexually, usually in the case of apple by grafting.”

Even so, seeds have reigned supreme over the centuries, making it possible for civilizations to survive because seeds were any easy way to carry the food supply with advancing armies, according to the Goughs.

“Saving seeds gives you a greater sense of independence from seed companies, and makes you feel like you have more control over your family’s food supplies,” says Robert.

About the book

•”The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds,” $24.95, by Storey Publishing features 320 pages that profile 322 vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees and shrubs. Chapters cover how to grow plants for seed; harvesting, cleaning and storing seeds; germination principles; sowing seeds and raising transplants; and breeding your own varieties.

Rag doll test

simple test called the “rag doll test” tells you what to expect from seed germination. Here’s how to do it, according to one paper coffee filter, and dampen with water from a mist sprayer. The paper should be damp, not dripping wet. Fold the filter with accordion pleats.

Place 10 seeds inside the folds of paper, allowing ample space between seeds. Refold paper filter if necessary.

Place coffee filter with seeds inside a zip lock plastic bag and seal. Keep the bag someplace warm, like on top of a water heater. The seeds should stay about 70 to 80 degrees during the test.

Check the seeds after a day or two to see if they have sprouted. It should take no more than 10 days to germinate the seeds; if they haven’t sprouted by that time, the seeds are dead.

If fewer than seven of the 10 seeds sprout, you can still plant the seeds, but you’ll want to over plant them (use more than you normally would plant). If less than four of the seeds have sprouted, the seeds should be discarded.

Entry filed under: Green Information.

Now is the time to think about spring bulbs. So many beautiful HAND-MADE nature related gift items here.

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