14 December 2008

Seeds saving - why?

This is the plant we're saving for its seeds. Sorry, it's a bit overexposed.

There is a celery plant in our vegetable garden that reminds me every day how important it is to save vegetable seeds. Celery, unlike a lot of other common vegetables, is biennial. That means that it will only flower and produce seeds in its second year. My pineapple is similar, it produces its fruit in the second year. Many popular vegetables are annuals - and that means the seed can be planted, and will mature and reproduce all in the space of one year; and if it's an open pollinated plant, you can collect the seeds for planting the following season.

Celery flowers - these fine wispy flowers will soon turn into black seeds ripe for the picking.

First a word about open pollinated seeds and hybrids. Plant open pollinated seeds, they are reproductive. Doing so will ensure biodiversity for the coming generations. Open pollinated seeds are old vegetables whose seeds have been passed down through the generations without anyone tampering with them. And they taste like vegetables should taste. There are many more varieties of open pollinated seeds than hybrids, and they have fabulous names like Pink Brandywine, Lazy Housewife Bean, Mortgage Lifter and Purple Tiger Chilli - they were all named by the people who used them, not by multi-national companies. Open pollinated seeds may be harder to find though, so look online if you don't have a seed company nearby. Try to buy seeds from a supplier near you because those seeds will match your conditions better than those grown half a continent away.

On the other hand...

Hybrid seeds were developed by altering the makeup of particular plants to produce vegetables with certain traits. A good example of this is the supermarket tomato. When I was a girl, way back in the 1950s, tomatoes were large soft skinned fruit that weighed in at around two per pound. This was fine when we all bought our vegetables and fruit from the green grocer, but when supermarkets opened for the first time, when self serve was still a novelty, the stores wanted tomatoes that could be dropped on the floor without splitting, and they wanted four per pound. Tomato growers came up with a new tomato that was smaller and tough skinned. Store keepers were very pleased, housewives were not - they didn't taste like tomatoes used to taste. Over the years we've come to accept that bland tomato taste and only people who grow tomatoes in their backyards, or buy open pollinated tomatoes from the organic market, know the true taste of tomatoes.

Hybrid vegetables are strongly promoted by some seed companies because you can't save seed from them and therefore have to re-buy seeds every year.

Open pollinated seeds, which are now becoming quite popular, will produce vegetables exactly the same as the parent plant for year upon year. It will save you money to grow them, the vegetables are better, you'll help maintain genetic diversity by growing them and they taste divine.

Heritage chooks are a similar thing to open pollinated vegetables. They will go broody, sit on eggs, and happily raise chickens. They are reproductive. There are some chooks now - Hylines, Isa Browns and Lowlines - the familiar small red chook, that have been modified to not go broody and to keep laying eggs. This shortens their lifespan. Like hybrid vegetables and their seeds, Isa Browns and their sisters are programmed to be replaced frequently. Those companies prefer that we buy our vegetable seeds and chickens over and over again instead of taking control of our own gardens and flocks with open pollinated seeds and heirloom chooks.

It's all an encouragement to let someone else take over our food requirements so we don't have to worry our pretty little heads about it. Pfffffffft. If we allow that to continue, we will lose these old skills forever and we will be totally reliant on someone else, or worse still, a commercial enterprise, to feed us.

Self reliance ... make a step towards it every day.

So on to saving seeds ... which I will finish tomorrow by writing about how to select, save and store seeds.



  1. This is wonderful information - thank you so much for writing about it. I'm looking forward to reading your directions for seed saving.

    I've been saving seeds from my marigolds every year and am always tickled when they germinate. I haven't tried saving vegetable seeds yet, but I'd like to try next summer.

  2. Last year was the first time J. and I planted vegetables we bought all heritage seeds and things went pretty well. Now that we have a little gardening experience under our belts we want to try saving our own seeds in 2009.

    I'm very guilty of choosing seeds based on their interesting names or colors. But I think it keeps things interesting :)

  3. Sound advice. I am getting ready to plant again some veggies. I turned the soil and added the compost, anything else before I plant the seed?
    I saved some seeds but was unaware of the hybird thing so I am not sure if I have a good seed saved or not. Thanks for the info.

  4. Good morning Rhonda,

    When we lived on the farm one of our neighbours had these amazing onions that would form little bunches on the top of each plant on a long stem, just like a seed head but the onions (seeds) were bigger like pickling onions. He would save a few of those each year for the following year and they were so tasty. Sadly he passed on and we moved back to the big smoke (yuck) and the onions were forgotten. How I wish I had saved some of those onion seeds. We have started growing a few veges in the garden at our unit in Sydney. A couple of years ago they would not allow this as they only wanted flowers in the gardens, but now things seem to be changing and they are more tolerant to sustainability. Perhaps when they all try our little tomatoes they might get into the garden with us and maybe we might have even more veges growing next year. Looking forward to tomorrows message.
    Blessings Gail

  5. Gail,

    I think those are called Egyptian Bunching Onions.

    I look forward to your article on seed saving. I tried to save a few seeds from my tomatoes this year. I'll be excited to see if they sprout in the spring.

  6. Hi everyone.

    Kathy, it's easy, as I'm sure you know from your marigolds.

    Badhuman, I choose vegetables for their names too.

    Donetta, you'll need some old manure in your garden too, before you plant. Manure will make the biggest difference. Make sure it's old, not fresh. Also, look up the names of the seeds you saved because if they're hybrid seeds, they'll grow and you'll put all that work into them, but they won't produce the same vegetable you saved them from. It will be a lot of work for nothing if they're hybrids.

    Gail, it's a real pity you didn't ask for some of those onions. Many older vegetables die out because we don't value them enough to keep them. Good luck with your unit garden.

  7. Thanks for this information Rhonda. I've been reading about open pollinated seeds this last week and found several UK seed suppliers online who sell them so that's what we'll be buying this year. I'm looking forward to browsing the seed catalogues and planning my little herb and veg patch.


  8. Just another comment, after reading about those Egyptian onions (I grew a similar thing many years ago and sadly I lost them when I moved house) but I am growing some everlasting onions next year, small salad onions that grow in a bunch and you can pull as many as you like but as long as you leave a few growing they will keep growing and spreading. good value if you can keep them from one year to the next, maybe in a pot for those of us in a cooler climate! RosieB :)

  9. I didn't realise that some chooks weren't for breeding, although I shouldn't be surprised.
    We had Isa Browns a few houses back, when we had a larger backyard. Someone forgot to tell one of them that she wasn't supposed to get broody though!

  10. I look forward to the next post. This past year was the first year that I tried saving vegetable seeds. I've done flower seeds in years past. I need to learn more about seed saving because, quite frankly, I wasn't all the successful. Only saved from a few plants. I figure I'm learning though and every year I'll hopefully have a more productive garden.

  11. Hello again,
    Thankyou Emily for the name of the onions. I will try to get hold of some. One thing that I do each year is buy a bunch of shallots, always making sure that they have the roots attached. I put them in water as soon as I get them home and after I have used the green part for cooking I plant the base with the roots. They start growing within a couple of days and I always have fresh shallots by just cutting the tops and leaving them to keep growing.
    Cheers Gail

  12. What a nice post! Thank you for sharing all the info and your opinions.

  13. Interesting post. You said in a previous post that you were writing a book. Are these posts extracts from your book?

  14. Thank you. . . it is amazing how we (I) just don't know these basic things. I look forward to reading your blog everyday. When my husband I were first married, nearly 20 years ago we had a small city garden. I wanted one so badly and I didn't know the first thing about gardening. I remember calling my grandfather (a farmer) and asking him how to put the seed in the ground (wanting to know if there an up or a down to the seed). He thought that was such a silly question. The thing is, we have become so removed from where our food source comes from. My grandparents have passed, but I am still gardening (in the city) and loving the void your blog fills. Many thanks! Deb in the PNW

  15. I so need help with seed saving - mine usually go moldy prior to being able to plant. Cannot wait for tomorrow!

  16. Very informative post, Rhonda. I look forward to reading more.

  17. I am so excited to read your posts about seed saving! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

    I haven't found any local heirloom seeds here in TX (except from neighbors who've shared with me), but found an online source in the Northern US with a great selection: http://heirloomseeds.com/

    Side note - My son recently was introduced to the Disney movie, Wall-E. In that movie, the people let themselves become dependent on the robots to do everything for them. They became fat & lazy, and were not better off in the end. I think it had a good message.

  18. Thanks again for another informative entry. Here in the U.S, the big concern is now about genetically modified seeds which are hybrids (naturally). The big company that is trying to monopolize the industry here and in some places around the world (Iraq and India for example) are also suing innocent farmers when their crops get cross pollinated by the genetic seeds. It is becoming an urgent matter to buy what we call heirloom seeds and also saving our own seeds. I would be interested to hear if a Monsanto (the big company I mentioned above) or similar company is doing the same thing in Australia? Husband is from there and we dream of coming home sometimes.


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