Vegetable Seed Saving: What You Need to Know

With vegetable seed saving, a few extra steps, and simple ones at that, will keep your garden growing next year.

| September/October 2010

Saving your own vegetable seeds is often the only sure way to hang onto your favorite tomato variety. It also keeps money in your pocket since you won’t have to buy new stock every season. Although it’s not terribly difficult, saving seed properly isn’t as simple as just harvesting the nicest fruit or vegetables and drying the seeds. Acquiring viable seeds requires a little forethought and preparation to ensure healthy crops in the future.

From hybrids to heirlooms

To start, you need to know the difference between hybrids, heirlooms and open-pollinated plants.

In general, when you’re saving seeds, use heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. There is an important difference between the two: Heirlooms are all open-pollinated plants, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.

An open-pollinated plant is naturally pollinated (by animals or wind) and produces a new generation representative of parent plants. Such varieties breed true as long as the parent plants are isolated from cross-pollination with other varieties or closely related species.

The definition of an heirloom is a little more challenging to pinpoint. Typically, heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that have been around for at least 50 years and often have origins in a particular region or climate. Some say heirlooms shouldn’t be commercially available, yet they’re gaining such popularity with home growers (because of legendary flavor and adaptation to regional growing conditions) that seed companies are offering increasingly larger selections each year.

Hybrids result when two specific varieties or cultivars are cross-pollinated, a process that can occur naturally and with human manipulation. Breeders have long known that hybridization is an efficient way to combine the best traits of different varieties into a single plant.

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