Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

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Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

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A legitimately independent gardener/homesteader incorporates some aspect of both plant breeding and seed saving into the list of skills that are required for supporting a family through good times and bad. Fortunately, learning to save seeds is relatively easy.

First, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some necessary terminology. For seed-saving, these terms include “annual,” “biennial” and “perennial.”

Annual plants are those that grow to maturity and produce seed within one growing season. A few good examples of annual plants include head lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant cucumbers and melons. This category also covers several important medicinal flowers and herbs, such as dill, cilantro, calendula and nasturtiums.

Biennial plants are those that produce a crop within the first season but will not produce seeds until the second year of growth. Some examples of biennial crops include carrots, parsnips, shallots, onions and leeks.

Perennial crops are those that come back year after year. Although seed can be saved from perennials, typically these plants are propagated by divisions or cuttings. Some examples of perennial crops include rhubarb, raspberries, grapes, horseradish and asparagus.

Open Pollinated, F1 Hybrid, Grafted Stock

Another important set of terms relates to how the seed was originally bred. This terminology is also important to understand because it can affect the overall outcome of your success as a new seed-saver. Some terms used to describe breeding techniques include “open pollinated,” “F1 hybrid,” “grafted stock” and “genetic modification.”

Get The Best Deals On Non-GMO Seeds For Your Garden Right Here!

Open-pollinated seeds are the best planting stock for folks who are truly interested in experimenting with at-home seed saving. Since they have been allowed to cross naturally with each other, these seeds still have the ability to adapt quickly to their host environment through the exhibition of a large variety of traits that still remain present within their genetic make-up … in other words, they are still a little bit “wild.”

F1 Hybrids are plants that are bred using traditional breeding techniques — usually hand pollination by humans. Some F1 Hybrids produce sterile seed, making them less ideal for at-home seed-saving. However, many of today’s F1 Hybrids have been in production long enough to be incredibly stable, and the seed that is produced is frequently still viable.

Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

Image source: Pixabay.com

Grafting stock usually refers to fruit trees. During this process, a branch is clipped from a tree that produces a known variety (such as Fuji Apples) and is attached to a hardy rootstock via a graft. There are multiple rootstocks available for the same variety. Each rootstock is geared toward a specific overall tree size, disease resistance or a certain soil type. It is possible to graft trees at home; however, unless you plan on growing your own rootstock, grafting is less sustainable than other forms of plant breeding.

Finally, genetically modified organisms are those that are created within a laboratory. To date, it is not practical to produce genetically modified crops at home. Of course, supporters of organic gardening wouldn’t want to do so, anyway.

How I Save Seed

So now that you have a small vocabulary of terms at your disposal, what is the next step? Start by identifying the crops that you utilize most regularly within your garden. At my house, we eat a lot of lettuce, so it makes sense for us to save our own seed. During the early part of the season, we identify individual plants that seem to be doing exceptionally well within our climate. We look for characteristics that are important to us, such as speed of growth, overall size, color, texture and (most importantly) flavor. We then mark those individual plants with a flag or some other type of marker – and we do not harvest them.

As the season goes on, these plants will continue to grow and will eventually send up flowers. We allow them to pollinate naturally via insects or the wind. Once there are mature seeds available for harvest, we clip the entire flower stalk and place it upside down in a paper bag. Using our fingertips, we roll the seed free from the chaff and discard the hard and poky stems. We agitate the seed slightly to shake the fluff off the seed and then use a blow dryer to blow out the lighter material. We then have hundreds and hundreds of beautiful lettuce seeds that we can plant again the following season. We place these seeds into a sealed glass jar and store them in a cool and dark location. The jars are labelled with the year the seed was collected and the original variety. For most annual plants, this is about as complicated as things get.

For more information on how to save seed for other crops in your garden, check out the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. She does an amazing job of helping newbie seed savers understand the process of both creating and saving seed at home.

Happy gardening!

Share your tips on saving seeds in the section below:

How to Germinate Peach Pits (and Why You Should)

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Save money by growing your own peach trees from seeds. It’s amazingly easy! My video on how to germinate peach pits has almost 40,000 views since I posted it back in July of last year. Watch it below.

Since posting that instructional video, I have received a lot of comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

Recently, my friend Amanda sent these two pictures of her peach-sprouting success.

germinate peach pitgerminate peach pit

How Do You Germinate Peach Pits?

Some years ago, I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate. Cold stratification is a technique used to simulate real-world conditions that a seed would get outdoors after a frozen winter, which then gives way to a warm, wet spring. There are six methods of cold stratification to choose from: cold water soaking, refrigeration, fall planting, winter/solstice sowing, outdoor treatment, and snow planting.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

germinate peach pit

I did this experiment despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners, who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

germinate peach pitgerminate peach pit

In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do, and a YUGE, high energy, too. Check out this video on how I germinated other fruit trees from seed!

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t necessarily correct. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say them.

Heck with that.

Germinate peach pits and you get free fruit trees. Easy! The same method works for plums and cherries, too. And if that’s not enough, you can read about sprouting avocados here.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits, cartoon-style:

germinate peach pit

 

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly. And let us know how your germination experiments go! We’d love to hear from you. Put your comments below.

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The post How to Germinate Peach Pits (and Why You Should) appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Save Carrot Seed

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Save Carrot Seed Like a Pro

Here’s a great video from Seed Savers Exchange that will answer all of your questions about how to save carrot seed.  Dr. John Navazio is a veteran organic seed saver, with a PhD in plant breeding from the University of Wisconsin.

Here he shows you the different stages of seed maturity in carrot flowers (or umbels).  The videography is great and you really get a good visual example to know when the seed is ready to take.

As you’ll see, the only tools you’ll need for this task are two hands and a cookie sheet.  John has some really nice screens for separating the seed from the burrs and dust, but you can manage just fine without those.

Cleaning Your Carrot Seed

When you save carrot seed, the hardest part is usually separating the seeds from the rest of the drying plant.  You don’t want to store all of the dust and debris from the dead flower.  And if you’ve ever handled carrot seed, you know that we’re talking about some really tiny bits and pieces.

In this video, John uses screens to separate the seeds from the dust and dead plant matter.  That’s a great approach, but many of us don’t have a set of screens for this purpose.

One alternative is to keep rubbing and blowing the seeds, as shown in this video – indefinitely, until the seeds are separated enough for storage.  Using an electric fan to blow away the dust is another popular technique.  With tiny seeds like these, you won’t want to put your work directly in front of the fan, but arrange it somewhat to the side of the fan, so that you only get a gentle breeze to blow away the dust and crumbling leaf bits.

Storing Saved Carrot Seeds

All of the carrot seeds in the world won’t help you if you can’t find them next season at planting time.  Check out this helpful video Marjory made to show you how she stores her saved seeds: Organizing Your Seed Collection with Marjory Wildcraft.

organic-seed-alliance-seed-saving-guide


Thanks to John Navazio and the Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm for producing and sharing this helpful video.

The post How to Save Carrot Seed appeared first on The Grow Network.

Simple Seed Germination Test at Home

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Germination Test for Saved Seeds

Sometimes we save seeds with the best intentions, and then we fall short on the follow through – by not planting those seeds when the next season rolls around.  A simple germination test can tell you whether or not those seeds are still worth planting.

I know there are plenty of orphaned seeds like this in the seed collection at our house.  Sometimes they’re seeds that we just forgot to start.  Sometimes they’re the remnants of a project from a previous season.  Sometimes they’re seeds that we just forgot to label, so we don’t really know what variety they are or what year they were grown.

However you ended up with questionable seeds, there’s an easy method you can use at home to find out just how viable those seeds are.

Want to start saving your seeds?  The [Grow] Network offers an online training course with everything you need to know.  Learn more here: Seed Saving Training Expedition

Testing Your Old Seeds

The testing method is simple.  You wrap up a random sampling of the questionable seeds in a wet paper towel, place the paper towel inside a plastic container, keep it out of direct light, and wait. The test should last as long as it usually takes good, new seed to germinate.  So, if you normally expect tomato seeds to germinate in 5-10 days – your test for old tomato seeds should be 10 days long.

As the seeds begin to germinate, you check the seeds daily and keep a running scorecard.  Record the number of seeds that germinate successfully, and the number of seeds that fail or mold.  Each time a seed germinates or molds, remove it from the test (take it off of the paper towel).  At the end of the test, determine the percentage of seeds that germinated successfully, and extrapolate that percentage to the total number of seeds you have.

Here is a guide, with pictures, from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: How to Test Germination

And here is a more detailed approach from the Seed Savers Exchange: Home Germination Testing

For starting seeds in trays – this test should help inform your decisions about how many seeds you need to start.  For direct-seeding – this test should help you determine how densely to seed your garden bed.

You should do your test in the same conditions you plan to have when you start the seed.  So if you’ll be starting lettuce seeds in cool conditions – run your test in those same conditions.  If you’re testing peppers that will be started in warmer conditions – make your test conditions warmer too.

Keep in mind that you need to do this test before it’s time to start the seeds in question.  For some seeds, the time it takes them to germinate in the test is the same amount of time that it will take them to germinate in trays, seed starting cells, or directly in the soil.  So if you usually expect 7 days for seed emergence for tomatoes, you should do your germination test at least 7 days ahead of the date when you plan to actually start the seeds.

How Long Can You Store Saved Seeds?

That’s a tricky question.  Typical seed life varies according to plant variety.  And in my experience, I’d say there’s a lot of fluctuation based on how the seeds are stored and environmental conditions.

A few crops, like sweet corn and spinach, typically have very short shelf life and you should probably plant them the very next season after they were saved.  Most seeds have longer lifespans, and typically stay viable for 2 – 5 years.

Here is a helpful list from Iowa State University’s ag extension: Life Expectancy of Vegetable Seeds

If you have some old seeds that have been stored well, don’t give up hope!  Check out this [Grow] Network writing contest entry from 2014: Too Many Tomato Seedlings – From 30 Year Old Seeds!

Interested in ways to use up your old seeds?  Here’s one great idea: How To Create Chicken Fodder Using Your Old Seeds


Thanks to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seed Savers Exchange for sharing the helpful info!

And thanks to James Romer, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

The post Simple Seed Germination Test at Home appeared first on The Grow Network.

10 Fail Proof Foods To Grow For Beginning Homesteaders

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Gardening for HomesteadersIt is springtime, and everyone, prepper or not, is beginning to consider planting and growing a garden. For those that want to successfully feed their family, but are not necessarily the most seasoned gardeners, there are several fruits and vegetables that are easy to maintain and therefore will help ensure your success in producing food crops. These crops can often be canned and stored as well as eaten fresh and enjoyed by you and your family. In addition, the knowledge of being able to grow your own food is invaluable in a post-SHTF scenario. I find that as a Mom myself it is so important to have healthy food for my family, but just because I feed my family vegetables, it doesn’t mean I know how to grow them. However there is no reason for me, or anyone, to feel overwhelmed; these 10 food crops are a cinch to grow and great place for any new gardener to start.

 

Early (Cool) Season Vegetables

Early season vegetables can be planted in the cool spring. They don’t usually fair that well in the hot summer.

Radishes –

Radishes are quick growing. They sprout easily and produce a harvestable vegetable in just about 4 weeks. You should plant radishes in a staggered cycle, about every two weeks from early spring to just before summer in order to obtain a continuous harvest. Remember that radish leaves are edible too.

Arugula and other lettuce greens –

Lettuce and arugula do not store well, but they are easy growing plants that can easily be planted and maintained in any scenario, especially if you are growing after a disaster. They grow well in pots, making them a natural for urban homesteaders.

Snow peas/Sugar snap pea-

Snow peas are slightly different from sugar snap peas, but both are easy to grow for beginners. Snow peas are usually flatter, and more tender; they grow on a vine and require support of a cage or trellis, but there are also bush varieties that do not require support. Sugar snap peas are the fatter variety, and they also grow on a vine requiring support. Either kind is a wonderful food packed with goodness that most everyone in the family loves to enjoy. They also freeze well for long term storage.

Green onions –

Green onions are another plant that is extremely easy to grow. They can be harvested and dried for long term storage as well as used fresh. They provide a powerful pack of flavor that would be highly sought after in a survival situation. You can plant seeds, but you can also replant roots that you trim off the green onions you bought at the store. As they grow you can harvest the green stems as needed and then they will grow again.

Late (Warm) Season Vegetables

Warm season vegetables love the sun. There is no point in planting these early, no matter how nice the weather is looking and how excited you are to get planting. You’ll want to plant most of these in late spring, depending on your location, but for most of the US that means late April to early May.

Tomatoes –

Tomatoes are a given for any gardening beginner. They are so versatile, and can be canned, stored and prepared in a number of ways. You are able to can and store sauce, pastes, stewed tomatoes, or enjoy them fresh throughout the late summer season. Tomatoes can also flourish when grown in a big enough pot, making them effective for even small space gardeners.

Tomato plants come in two forms: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants stay compact—about three to four feet in height—and all the fruit ripens at roughly the same time. These are a good choice for urban homesteading when space is at a premium. Indeterminate varieties are more vining, and continue to grow and produce fruit until the fall sets in. They can grow quite large, especially with fertilizer, and need a tomato cage for support. If you are planning to start your own from seed, you might want to start them indoors in the early spring, or buy seedlings at the store if available.

Zucchini –

Zucchini, as well as other summer squash, can produce a fair amount of crop for canning or for eating fresh. Most squash does take up a fair amount of garden space, making it less common in urban garden settings, however the patty pan summer squash is slightly more compact for urban and suburban gardeners. Zucchini should be harvested when they are about 6″ long, or in the case of patty pan varieties about 2-3″ across. Squash blossoms are also edible and popular in many cuisines.

Green Beans –

Green beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Once the plant start producing, you’ll want to harvest the green beans every few days for several weeks. Green beans can well for long term storage. There are also yellow and purple varieties that grow easily as well.

Peppers –

Bell peppers are the most popular variety, but they require a slight bit more attention than other pepper plants and can take much longer to reach maturity. Hotter pepper varieties, like jalapeno, and serranoes are easy to grow and produce a plentiful supply of peppers per plant. Like tomatoes, you will want to start your seeds inside to protect them from the early spring cold, or buy seedling plants from your local nursery.

Tomatillos –

Tomatillos grow huge and produce a significant amount of fruit making them ideal for preppers. Tomatillos are also called husk tomatoes, because the fruit grows with a protective husk around the outside making it very resilient and insect resistant. They grow similarly to a tomato plant and can benefit from a little support from a tomato cage. They also have plentiful seeds, meaning once they are introduces to your garden, it’s will easily re-seed and grow anew every year.

Cucumbers –

Cucumbers are one of the post popular pickling vegetables, but they are also wonderful fresh out of the garden. Cucumbers grow on a vine, and while you can let them climb a trellis or cage, they can grow on the ground successfully as well. Cucumbers produce for only a few weeks in a row, so you might consider planning in succession every couple of weeks if you want a long lasting harvest period.

Of course depending on where you live, a certain plant may be easier to grow than another, but for the most part in a standard American climate, you will find these plants will all grow without too much trouble or concern. When you are trying to start your own garden or homestead, it’s often overwhelming trying to decide how to get started, but with these 10 easy crops you can’t go wrong.

The post 10 Fail Proof Foods To Grow For Beginning Homesteaders appeared first on USPreppers.