Considering saving seeds for the first time? This can be a rewarding project, but there are a few pitfalls. Here’s what you need to know.
- Guaranteed supply. If you have a generous reserve of seeds in your closet, you can garden no matter what else happens in the world.
- Self-sufficiency. For those who are seeking an entirely closed-system approach to gardening, saving seeds is an obvious choice.
- Budget savings. Many gardeners see saving their own seed as a way to save some money. The savings are probably negligible if you purchase seeds at the dollar store, but they can add up if you generally purchase rare, organic varieties online.
- Adapted genetics. Plants that grow successfully from seedling to mature plant in your garden with minimal inputs are likely adapted to your soil and climate. Selecting seeds from these hardy, healthy plants over several generations will produce a strain of plants particularly suited to your growing conditions.
- Variety preservation. If you love a rare heirloom vegetable or flower, saving seeds is a way to help ensure that it will be around for years to come.
- Opportunities to create new varieties. Want to create a new variety all your own? Some gardeners create their own varieties particularly suited to their environment by allowing several plants to hybridize.
- Labor-saving opportunities. This may sound a little counterintuitive at first. However, you can save yourself the trouble of planting the next crop by allowing the current crop to go to seed and plant itself. Lettuce tends to lend itself particularly well to this planting method, but anything from tomatoes to lima beans may be willing to oblige.
- Green thumb development. Some gardeners just enjoy the learning experience of growing their own seeds.
- Legal issues. Some varieties are intellectual property protected by patents or PVPs (plant variety protection). While the practice of protecting varieties is less common with horticultural seed than agricultural seed, it is best to do your research in advance. This is not an issue with heirloom varieties.
- Reduced flexibility. If you like growing something new every year, you may not want to have a reserve supply of seeds.
- Untidy appearance. Bolting plants rarely look the best.
- Harvest sacrifices. Saving seeds takes up space that could be used to grow food. You may have to settle for a smaller harvest. Alternatively, you could expand the garden, but this will increase the amount of work that goes into caring for the garden.
- Time inputs. Growing your own seeds takes time on top of the usual garden chores. You may have to do some hand pollination, depending on what you are growing, and you will certainly have to take time to collect and clean the seeds.
- Disease risk. If your garden suffers from some of the more serious bacterial or viral diseases, saved seed may become a source of infection.
- Inbreeding. Some plants are harder to raise for seed in a small home garden due to inbreeding risks. With self-pollinating plants, such as peas, this will present no issue. With susceptible plants, such as corn, as many as 200 square feet of gardening space may need to be devoted to corn alone to minimize the risk.
- Unappealing fermentation projects. Some seeds, such as tomatoes, are typically fermented to keep seed-borne diseases to a minimum. Unfortunately, this process is usually smelly and unattractive.
- Drying concerns. Beginning seed growers may make some mistakes when drying their seeds. This can reduce the viability of the seed. In severe cases, the whole batch may mold and be ruined.
Saving seed requires a little additional time and space. It will also require you to invest extra effort in the beginning as you learn the techniques.
That said, saving seed is an unparalleled way to begin raising plants that are ideally suited to your soil, climate, and gardening methods, regardless of whether you preserve heirloom varieties or create your own hybrids. Over time, the establishment of an adapted gene pool will increase your gardening success dramatically, allowing you to reap larger, higher-quality harvests with less work and fewer inputs.
With this in mind, saving seed may not be the best use of time and space for the casual backyard gardener, although it can be enjoyable. For those seriously dedicated to growing their own produce, however, seed saving is likely to prove an excellent fit.
Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Have you decided to take the plunge? Next you will want to learn how to ensure that the quality of your seeds improves from generation to generation.