17 September 2009

Raising open pollinated seeds

It seems that quite a few people have problems germinating seeds and getting seeds to seedling stage which grow strong and healthy enough to plant out. The lovely Rose said the other day that she was having problem so I thought I'd write about my take on growing vegetables from seeds.

Food seeds are valuable items. They have the potential to feed the people of the world and without seeds, we have no corn, rye, barley, wheat, rice or vegetables. So it should concern us who controls our seeds. For the past 50 years or so, multi-national companies have been hybridising seeds so they grow to a specific type and size and in doing do they remove the ability of that plant to reproduce itself. Hybrid or F1 seeds cannot be saved at the end of the season and grown again the following year. You must go back to the store and buy your seeds every year. In the old days, before the commercial seeds market was established, people collected seeds from their own harvested vegetables and saved them for the following year. They swapped seeds with neighbours and bartered for goods with seeds - seeds were seen are a valuable commodity.

Guess what! People still collect seeds from their own vegetables and fruit, they save it and grow the most wonderful array of old time vegetables of the kind you will never see in any supermarket. These people, myself included, are growing open pollinated or heirloom seeds and they would have it no other way. Price, availability of old varieties, and the taste of these old vegetables attract people all round the world, but there is another advantage of growing open pollinated seeds - every year they grow in your garden, they acclimatise themselves to the specific conditions in your garden.

If there is ever a move by our governments towards giving seed companies control of all our seeds, that is the day we must all stand up and be counted. Monsanto, and other seed companies, already have the ability to sue US farmers who grow certain crops from last year's seeds. Whoever controls the seeds controls the food. And that is why it's important for us backyarders to save seeds and keep this valuable seed pool of old vegetables going. Our grandmas and grandpas before us have saved them all so we have this choice, we cannot turn our backs on this heritage because it's easier or more convenient to buy seedlings or new seeds each year. Please read this article on seed saving and look here for seed saving instructions. One of the concerns with seed saving is cross pollination so make sure you read all about that. There is a chart here that will help you.

BTW, I feel the same way about chickens. The caged poultry industry has hybridised chickens for their own benefit and many of the little brown chooks you buy no longer have the ability to reproduce. They're egg layers, nothing else. Those little brown chooks are all bred for the caged poultry industry, a few of the lucky ones are sold off to backyarders. Heirloom chickens are, sadly enough, known now are rare breed chickens. Again, it is the role of the conscientious backyarder to help keep these rare breeds going, just like it is with the seeds. If we don't do it, who will?

Okay, so let's get on to how you actually sow seeds. Large seeds and small seeds are generally sown straight into the garden bed. Large seeds like beans and peas are buried at three times their size - so if you have a seed that is 1cm thick, you'd plant sow that seed 3cm deep. Smaller seeds, like carrot and radish, are scattered on the surface and covered with very light soil or sand. It's better to use sand because it will indicate to you every time you're in the garden, that you have tiny seeds in that spot. All these seeds - the large and the small are best sown directly in the garden. When sowing very small seeds like radish and carrot, sow them together. Get an old spice or salt shaker, add the seeds along with a teaspoon full of fine dry sand. Prepare the furrow for sowing and shake the seeds in along the furrow and cover with sand. Water in very gently with a fine spray. In about a week, the radishes will start to germinate and will grow. While that is happening, the carrots will also germinate but they take longer than the radishes. By the time the radishes are ready to pick, the carrots will just be putting on the root growth and removing the radishes will make way for all those carrots.

It is the medium sized seeds like tomato, cucumber, lettuce etc. that can be planted in seed raising trays and grown to seedling stage before being transferred to the garden. There is also the benefit of raising these seeds to be ready to go in as soon as the chance of frost has passed.

I have written before about sowing seeds and there are guidelines here. Two important things to remember are that the seed raising mix you use must be very fine. The seeds need to be able to emerge from the soil and they can't do that if they are under pieces of bark or compost - it must be fine soil. Also, watering is important. When you plant in the garden bed, plant into moist, not wet, soil. Water large seeds once - they will absorb enough water to keep them going until they germinate. When you see green growth, water again. Small seeds can absorb much less water but will easily be dislodged if you blast them with the garden hose. A fine spray is all they need and keep them moist, spraying once a day until you see green growth. Then water as normal.

Light plays a part too. Seeds don't need any light before they germinate but when they do, they'll need strong light, not full sunlight, but enough light to cast a shadow. As soon as you see green growth, give them morning light, if possible, and keep when protected from the wind and rain. As they grow taller, they need stronger light. Just before I plant my seedlings out, I move them from the greenhouse into full sunlight in their tray. This gets them used to full sunlight before they're transplanted.

The last thing to remember about seeds is that they are a self contained unit of nutrition and do not need any assistance apart from soil and water. Don't fertilise seeds. You will end up with very thin leggy growth and weak seedling. They only need water to germinate.

Seed sowing and saving is a significant skill to have if you have a garden. Like most other things you learn it takes a bit of time to discover how to do it but it's a good investment of your time and effort. I hope you take the time to read all these links, this is an important part of sustainable gardening. And if we backyard gardeners don't do this, who will?

Important article from Mother Earth re crop contamination
Open pollinated and hybrid seeds


  1. As always, Rhonda, thanks for another informative and encouraging post. I have something to raise which is slightly off topic. A few people have commented to me recently that growing one's own vegetables/salad items is not always financially viable. (Certainly this cannot be the case!) What would you have to say about such claims....?
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  2. We recently watched the DVD titled The World According to Monsanto. We already save many of our own seeds for gardening but if we hadn't already been in the habit then we sure would have started after watching that film.
    I think you have such valuable information in this post, I'm glad you took the time to write it. Thank you.

  3. Hi Tracy, there is no doubt about it, setting up a garden from scratch can cost good money. However, the cost of setup is defrayed over many years of vegetable production. Mind you, if you set up a garden and grow vegetables for one or two seasons, you have very expensive vegetables, but most people who make the commitment to a vegetable garden know it is a long term proposition. After the initial outlay - and I would estimate that to be (for an average sized garden) about $100-$200, you keep the costs low by doing the things like seed saving, making your own compost and fertiliser and harvesting rain water. Using recycled materials also cuts down the ongoing costs. I think I will always have a vegetable garden and I know the cost of it is more than paid back in fresh organic vegetables, that are not contaminated by eColi, and in the knowledge that if there is a major drought or transport strike, I'll always have fresh food in the backyard.

    Thank you Heather. I've seen that film too. Scary eh?

  4. THANK YOU! I am fairly new to growing a wide range of food in my backyard & I have been trying to find time to learn more about saving seeds and how to process them properly!!

  5. Good morning Rhonda. Thank you so much for addressing this issue and for providing so much helpful information, I have printed this out for further study and will look up the Mother Earth article after work today.
    Thanks to Heather for mentiuoning the DVD --I'm am just starting to learn about global seed issues.

  6. Thanks Rhonda, this was a timely post for me. Last year was the first time I started a small vegie garden, so I bought seedlings. This year I bought seeds from Diggers, and started them off in a propogator with seed raising mix, kept warm inside, last month. However, I lost most of them, and didn't quite know what to do with the sprouts that did come up! Also, some sprouted sooner than others and I was confused about when to take the lid off the propagator. So the ones that did sprout became quite leggy.I think they might be for sowing all the same seeds at the same time? Anyway, I sowed more seeds in little pots this time and so far most of them are sprouting. I will keep trying till it works. Your post was really helpful to me, so I thank you. How is it you often write about things which I'm thinking of?
    PS We had your salmon mornay for dinner last night. It was enjoyed by all :)
    Thanks again,

  7. This is so timely as my garden winds down for the winter months and I can start all over in the spring with heirloom seeds yet to be purchased. I hope you don't mind if I link my blog over here. I'm fairly new to the notion that heirloom seeds are priceless and some of my fellow readers didn't know it was important either.

  8. Rhonda. I am trying to make the ginger beer bug. Unfortunately it has not started bubbling and fermenting, is this a problem.
    Also when I make up the ginger beer do I add the ginger liquid from the bowl or the ginger stuff in the cloth.
    Thanks. Pat

  9. Hi Pat, yes it is a problem. Bubbling and bubbles indicate the process of fermentation is active. Did you leave the lid off the container. It just needs a loose cloth over it because it has to capture the wild yeast in the air. The one I made last week started bubbling at the end of the second day. You only use the ginger liquid, squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the powder and that is what you use to make the ginger beer. The ginger itself can be used to start a new ginger beer plant.

    If you can't get it to bubble, start a new plant and add a small pinch of dry yeast to the mix - the same yeast you would use in your bread. That will speed things up.

  10. AWESOME Post! I've stared saving seeds this year. I have one heirloom tomato and a bean I am saving.As a newbie I really appreciate the links, I'll be checking those out!

  11. Many thanks, Rhonda - this is an excellent post and has given me the motivation and knowledge I need to try again!!

  12. A great post Rhonda. I have started my own vege garden this year and have been using heirloom seeds where possible so I can save my own for the next season.

  13. Good post Rhonda.

    For the first time this year I left some of my good specimens of vegetables in the ground to set seed so I can use their seed next year.

    I don't use F1. I tried them in the past and the specimens I did have looked great but all ripened or were ready for harvesting at once and had little flavour. That put me off because they are not cheap in the UK.

    I remember one butternut squash hybrid I tried was nearly £4 for 8 seeds.

  14. Hi Rhonda,

    I think this is probably a dumb question but I assume that an F2 hybrid is even less likely to produce viable seeds than an F1. I bought some broccolini seedlings this year and they are F2. I needn't have bothered either because the normal broccoli plants produced plenty of side shoots which are exactly like the F2 broccolini.

  15. Hi Rhonda. I think today's post is fantastic - I have emailed it to my 12 year old daughter who is in charge of our vege garden (yes, sigh, we live in the same house), and to a couple of fellow home ed-ers who have an interest in their gardens. Here's to using today's technology to educate the next generation in the ways of those who came before!

  16. New to your page Rhonda! I have a good sized garden and LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I have started a small orchard on my property also.

    Can I be straight forward and ask a little question? What is (in your opinion) the best (and most economical) company to get non-hybrid seeds from? I have checkd out Seed Savers and all, I love what I see. But my goals are bigger than a seed packet of 50 count for 3 bucks. I grow, on average, 50-100 cuke plants, 30 tomatoe plants...and so on. Lots of growing here. This is the first year I have saved certain seed for next year. My kids and I raided the garden for next years seeds yesterday! I want to stockpile my seeds. I want my seed collection to be as plentiful as leaves on a tree.

    Thanks for all the info, I really will enjoy popping through here every time you post!

  17. Rhonda Jean - I have planted a fall garden & used seeds that were passes down to me. I know they aren't heirloom but I didn't plan ahead. I WILL be changing that for the spring planting & looking forward to that. I am now researching where to order from & making a list. Also, I am in the same boat as Pat with the Ginger Beer Plant. I did add a pinch of yeast to start it. I have a fine net mesh covering it. I don't think I am getting the proper fermentation. There is a thin thin film or tiny tiny bubbles. Is that enough, or should I start over? OH I have been taking crochet lessons and started my first dishrag last night. fun! thanks, Emily in Texas

  18. Rhonda dear, I have tried to subscribe to your blog before, but the subscription feed only contains part of the post, and NO pictures!

    If that ever is fixed, I would gladly subscribe again, but for now I just visit the page each day.

  19. Thanks Rhonda for your comment and helpful advice re the ginger beer plant. I will start again and hopefully this time it will work.

  20. Our garden even done with recycled bricks and such did cost a bit to start. The enrichment to our lives has been so much more!! Even if it was just knowing we have crops to eat and share with others right in our back yard it would be enough. The peace of being out in nature and working along side our family is even more. You get healthy exercise without the gym fees! Knowing we are saving seeds for the next generation. Knowing we are helping bees and other wild life to survive and thrive. You can just feel the tensions of the day shed from you out in the garden! Once I grew a garden years ago I never looked back. It keeps you learning and growing and eating ever so well!! Jody

  21. Tracy right at the top, I thought that was such an interesting question that I blogged about it today! There are a LOT of issues that make it difficult to work out whether vegie gardening is more 'economical'.


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig