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Garden Help Desk: Seed saving basics for home gardeners

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Oct 21, 2023
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The seeds from most fruit trees may not produce the special characteristics you're expecting because of genetic variability due to insect pollination.
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Seeds can be collected from many different herb species, but the flowers and seeds must be mature and dry before collecting.
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Plants grown from the seeds of flowers that are wind or insect pollinated often have different characteristics than the mother plants, making seed collection unreliable for home gardeners.

Today we’re featuring a column written by one of our Master Gardener candidates as part of their volunteer projects:

The art of seed saving has been around for as long as humans have grown their own food. What started as a survival necessity is now a hobby, money saving hack and a way to reproduce the best fruits and vegetables your garden can offer. Seed saving is relatively easy and is something that anyone can do. With some basic knowledge, you can be on your own seed-saving journey!

Harvesting your own seeds is not only a way to save money but also a way to sow your favorite plants year to year. If you find a plant that is especially good and you love the fruit that comes from it, saving a few seeds each year can provide you with an endless supply. Even if the seeds for a favorite variety become unavailable someday, you can still plant that variety since you’ve saved your own seeds each year.

When saving seeds, you’ll collect them from the plant you desire to get the seeds from. The fruit that the seeds are being harvested from should be ripe and fully matured. Plants such as peas, beans and flowers should be allowed to dry out before harvesting the seeds. Note that if you only save seeds at the very end of the season, you might unintentionally be saving the trait for late maturity. Some end-of-season seeds may also be poorer in quality than seeds collected when plants are at their prime.

If you want to save seeds from cucumbers and tomatoes, first allow the fruit to fully ripen. Harvest the fruit, scoop out the seeds and cover them with water. After a few days, the gel surrounding the seeds will dissolve off. Drain and air-dry the seeds and place in a container for storing. When storing your dried seeds, choose a cool, dry location like a basement room or refrigerator; never in an outside shed or garage that heats up in the warmer months. Seeds can be saved in a small envelope, resealable plastic bag or glass jar. It is important to have dry conditions so that your seeds don’t spoil or sprout prematurely.

It is important to make sure that the plants you glean seeds from are from heirloom or open-pollinated varieties, not from hybrid plants. A hybrid plant has come from seeds that were bred to produce a new variety with some specific traits of two different varieties. Seeds collected from a hybrid plant may still be saved and planted, but it is unlikely that you will enjoy all the same desirable traits as had with the original hybrid seed. In addition, the new plant may be less productive or have smaller, inferior fruit.

Not all heirloom plants will produce seeds that give the same fruits and vegetables as the mother plant. Open-pollinated plants such as melons, pumpkins, squash and some cucumbers need the help of bees to be productive. Depending on which plants the bees have visited, there may be unexpected variations in the new plant. Open-pollinated plants will have traits from both parent plants. Other open-pollinated plants pollinate themselves before the flowers open and new genes are rarely introduced.

Fruit trees are another unique case because most have been grafted onto a root stock to preserve the desirable qualities of the grafted variety. The seeds produced will have genetic variability that doesn’t necessarily include the qualities you wanted. On the other hand, you might discover a wonderful new apple or peach.

Seed saving can also be fun and social. A fun way to share your favorite collected seeds and to try plants that others have saved is by participating in a local seed swap or exchange. Some libraries or other organizations in your local area might host an annual seed swap. You might also find friends and neighbors who have their own collection of favorite seeds to swap with you.

2024 Master Gardener Course registration is now open

Would you like to improve your gardening skills, learn more about how plants and soils work together, or find better ways to manage pests in your landscape? If so, the Utah County Master Gardener Course is the place for you.

Classes begin on Jan. 18, 2024, and continue through March 19.

We have two class sections each Tuesday and Thursday — an afternoon section from 1-3:30 and an evening section from 6-8:30. All classes will be available virtually, and some will be available in person, but those classes will also be broadcast virtually as well. The same class content is covered in the afternoon and evening classes on the same day. Come learn and grow with us as you make new friends, learn lots of amazing things, gain new skills and get involved in cool gardening projects in the area!

All are welcome to participate in the classes. However, the purpose of the Master Gardener program is to develop trained volunteers who provide Utah communities with unbiased, research-based horticultural education and technical assistance in gardening and home horticulture. You’ll receive 17 class sessions of college-level lectures and hands-on training workshops taught by Utah State University Extension faculty and industry professionals.

In addition to the classwork, students who wish to become a Certified Master Gardener must provide a minimum of 40 hours of approved volunteer service back to their community.

Learn more at https://bit.ly/401VYLa.


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