Saving Seeds Shapes the Future
Thomas N. Tomas
The shortest day of the year is fast approaching. The garden is put to bed for winter, but my thoughts are turning to spring. I have already perused five new seed catalogues and started to fill in the order blanks. The Seed Savers list of varieties that I will offer in 1997 has been returned to Decorah, Iowa and I eagerly wait to see what other members will list. Now my evenings are spent cleaning the seeds that I saved this summer.
The crop of parsnip seed was good. I harvested the umbels as they matured between rains and should have enough seed for two years. Parsnip seed doesn't maintain its vigor much longer than that, so I grow a crop of seed at least every other year. Over the past five years, I have selected the best disease free, medium sized roots that overwinter in the garden and planted them in a bed to produce seed. I don't know what variety they are, as I started out by growing four varieties and saving the best roots the next spring for a seed crop. What I am after is a parsnip that does well in my garden.
This year I also raised a small crop of onion seed. On May 5th, I sorted out the best keeping onion bulbs from the 1995 crop. I selected 26 Red Diablo and 20 Yellow Sweet Sandwich, and planted them in a small bed. Both varieties are hybrids, and any crosses should have a wide genetic base. They bloomed well and set seed, but the wet weather and grasshoppers reduced the yield to a third of what it should have been. That is enough seed to plant out next spring for a crop of several hundred onions.
I expect a lot of variation. We will eat the rejects first and put the best in storage for winter. Through the winter, any onions that sprout will be used. In May of 1998, I will plant the best keepers for another crop of seeds. Who knows? In another ten years I may develop a sweet, red storage onion uniquely adapted to the growing conditions of Orleans, Nebraska. In the meantime, I will have all the onions we need and something to dream about during long December evenings as I clean seed.
I also save okra, eggplant, tomatillo, tomato, pepper, pea, bean, cucumber, breadseed poppy, melon, herb, and flower seeds. With each of these, I hope to develop varieties that do well in my garden and have the characteristics that I want. So far, all of them produce as well as most varieties I can buy from a catalog. Some of them are superior for my needs, which is what counts.
If you would like to try saving seeds yourself, I suggest you contact your local library or book store for copies of the following two books:
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, 1991. Published by Seed Saver Publications, Decorah, Iowa
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe, 1993. Published by Little, Brown and Co.
Saving your own seeds is more than an interesting hobby that can produce varieties uniquely adapted to your garden. It gives you an opportunity to preserve the past and help shape the future of our food and flowers. As you will find from reading the books above, saving seeds doesn't take many special skills. It does require a love of plants, good observation and imagination.
It's great to spend long winter evenings preparing seeds that can produce plants which never would have seen the sun of spring, had they not first bloomed in your imagination.