Saving Garden Seed for Next Year

Thomas J. Koske  |  6/5/2009 8:13:58 PM

Avoid infected plants or those next to a virus-infected neighbor.

Garlic, shallots, potatoes and other vegetative "seed" may also have virus. Plant the offset garlic corms (nuts) and get a soild head garlic.

Saving one's own seed for next season is usually not a good idea. One main reason is that today, we grow mostly highly improved, hybrid cultivars. Hybrids, because of the nature of their derivation, do not self-breed true to the cultivar type (phenotype). You may well get mostly parent-like throwbacks that don’t work out all that well.  Open-pollinated or non-hybrid cultivars, however, can breed true to type if they're self-pollinated.

If you must save seed of an open-pollinated variety, consider these points:

  • If the plant is not self-pollinated with its complete or perfect flower, be sure of the hand crosses made.
  • Most vegetable seed is harvested after the fruit is over-ripe. Some are harvested fully mature and dry. In any case, seeds must be air dried well (for a few weeks) and stored dry in the refrigerator. Small seeds may be held in a freezer, but larger seeds can suffer from freeze fracturing and thus may lose vigor.
  • Avoid selecting plants or fruit with disease or insect damage and any that even hint of irregular growth patterns that may foretell of virus infection.
  • Record what you have and date it.

You may extract seed from ripe tomatoes by removing the seeded gel inside the fruit and putting it in a bucket of warm water for several days. Daily stir the foam cap to break it and the gel apart. Viable and clean seed should drop to the bottom, and dead seed should float.

Recent research at the USDA-ARS in Fort Collins, Colo., has keyed in on proper storage to maintain the seed’s viability. The rate at which a seed ages is determined by its initial quality, moisture content and storage temperature. They find that first holding seeds in dry air (25% relative humidity) and at a temperature of 40 degrees (refrigerator temperature) for a few weeks best preconditions seeds. They are neither under-dried nor over-dried.

After this preconditioning, the seed moisture content is optimal for whatever is considered "long term" for that species. Further storage is then best accomplished by holding seeds at 0 degrees F in an enclosed container.

With these findings in mind, we would do best with fully mature, non-diseased seeds that were placed in paper bags and held in the refrigerator for three weeks. After that, put them in freezer bags or hard, sealed containers and store them in the freezer.

Gardeners may exchange special seeds as a fun project across a parish or the state. Check with your parish AgCenter county agent or Louisiana Master Gardeners to see if other local gardeners are interested. Another local seed resource is the Louisiana Market Bulletin produced by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry 925-922-1284.

Those interested in heirloom seeds may wish to contact the Seed Savers Exchange. It offers a free catalog online or by calling 563-382-5990. Several seed suppliers feature older or some open-pollinated cultivars; these include Southern Exposure, RareSeeds, Shumway and Reimer among others.

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