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Seed saving – introduction

If you grow your own vegetables, seed saving can give you better germination, healthier plants and save you money. Seed saving is easy and productive, and may lead you to attend ‘seed swaps’ where you’ll have the opportunity to get hold of some really interesting varieties.

Saving seeds saves money

Saving your own seeds just once gives you far more seeds than you will find in an average packet, and they’re all free. That not only means they don’t cost anything, it also means you are free from having to rely on someone else to produce them for you – so it’s another step towards being self-sufficient.

While the term ‘self-sufficiency’ seems to imply a cut off, separate state, it means nothing of the sort. Trying to become more self-sufficient brings you into contact with like-minded people, and ‘seed swaps‘ are one example of this. Whether they’re organised events or not, seed swaps are great fun. They are a good way to meet people, to swap seed varieties and exchange gardening tips and other ideas. As far as seed-saving goes, self-sufficiency simply means no longer having to rely on the anonymous suppliers you previously bought from.

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You get far more seeds when saving than when buying

Saved seeds germinate better

The germination rate of your own seeds will usually be higher as they won’t have been through any of the handling processes commercial seeds are subjected to. Through saving your own, you also have the chance to handle them gently and store them under optimum conditions.

Parsnips, for example, are notoriously slow to germinate, and the eventual showing may be patchy at best. A common recommendation is to sow lettuce seeds between the rows, the idea being that they germinate first and remind you where you sowed the parsnips. The tendency is therefore to sow fairly thickly. If you sow your own saved parsnip seeds at the same density, you’ll find yourself spending loads of time thinning the results because you’ll get a hugely improved germination rate. Additionally, they come up so fast there is little point in sowing lettuces between the rows, as you’ll only have to pull them out again.

Saved seeds adapt to your plot

Over several generations, many vegetables will gradually adapt to the conditions in your individual plot. If you save seeds only from the plants that do best, you will get better results every year.

Only save seeds from ‘open pollinated’ varieties, and never from ‘F1’s. ‘F1’ (‘filial 1’) varieties are carefully controlled, highly-inbred hybrids. This means that although the genetic makeup of all the seeds in a packet is practically identical, they don’t breed true. F1 hybrids cannot be used for seed saving either because they are sterile, or because the results ‘revert’ to display attributes of one of the parents.

In contrast, ‘open pollinated’ varieties (i.e. pollinated by wind or insects) provide you with a range of genetic material rather than virtual clones. This genetic variety is what makes it possible to choose particular characteristics and save the seeds accordingly.

The basic rules of seed saving

There are a few basic rules which should be followed whatever seeds you are trying to collect:

1) Avoid harvesting seeds in wet weather, if at all possible.

2) Never use artificial heat to dry seeds or seed pods as this can affect germination rates. Even an area warmed by an apparently gentle heat source, such as a shelf above a radiator, could be too much. Just let them air-dry naturally.

3) Make sure seeds are totally, completely dry before storing. Real Seeds, possibly the best ‘seed saving’ seed company in the UK, suggest heating some rice in the oven to drive off all the residual water. Allow it to cool, then put it in a jar. The harvested seeds can be put in a cloth bag on top of this for a few days. The rice will draw the last remaining water from the seeds which will then store for much longer. They will also have a better germination rate.

Hopefully this will have made you want to have a go at seed-saving. Many plants are really easy to save seed from – and although some are more difficult, all are worthwhile. We’ll be adding seed saving articles to the site throughout the first half of 2013, so bookmark us or follow us on Facebook to keep up to date.

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