Imagine if you could buy a steak at a grocery store, and then use that steak to make more steak. Well, with many garden plants, that’s exactly how it works if you know what you are doing and have a little foresight. Saving seeds not only saves you money, it will also give you a better garden over time.
Why Save Seeds?
Many years ago, seed saving would have been the norm, and buying seeds, to most gardeners, would have seemed a little extravagant, if not inconvenient. These days the opposite seems to be the case, and I would imagine that most gardeners view seed saving as far too inconvenient to be worth the trouble. I can admit that I too fell into this category for many years as a gardener. For me, the first seeds that I ever saved were beans seed. The first year I tried it, I was successful, and every year afterward, I tried saving other kinds of seeds. To date I’ve not had one batch of seeds fail to yield a successful crop in the subsequent year, and I have never found the process to be difficult, or time consuming. All it requires is that you be constantly mindful of what is going on in your garden, and the various stages of development your plant. Over time, this becomes second nature, you really get a feel for it, and it starts becoming a wonderful experience that you thoroughly enjoy. Here a few reasons for saving seeds:
- Money: saving seeds saves you the cost of buying seeds in subsequent years
- Volume: when you save seeds you save ALOT of seeds. This can be very handy if you lose a crop in a subsequent year, because you will have plenty of seeds to re-plant, but this can also lead to far more successful garden (see ‘optimization’ point below).
- Sustainability: It’s very pleasing to grow food from seeds that you saved in a previous year.
- Education: It’s great to learn about the life-cycle of plants, and if you have children, very wonderful to involve them in that process.
- Optimization: When you save a lot of seeds, then you can plant a lot of seeds the following year, and thin them out in order to favour the more successful plants. Over time, this approach will result in strains of seeds that are ideal for your particular growing conditions, and you will get more pest resistant plants that have higher yields.
When you are saving seeds, make sure that you are doing this from plants that are heirloom varieties. Unlike hybrid varieties, the seeds of heirloom plants will grow into plants that resemble their parent plants, and this is very important when you are saving seeds.
As we mentioned in the last episode, plants are either annual, biennial, or perennial. Annuals live out their entire life-cycle in one season (seed germinates, plant grows, plant flowers and goes to seed, plant dies); biennials complete their life cycle in two years; and, perennials live for multiple years. For the purpose of this episode on seed saving, I’m talking about annuals and biennials, because for the most part we have perennials in our gardens because we don’t need to re-plant them each year, and thus, do not need their seeds.
- Annuals: These plants flower and got to seed in one growing season. Spinach and lettuce (greens that bolt) yield their seeds during the growing a single season, as do squashes and tomatoes.
- Biennials: These plants flower and go to seed over the course of two growing seasons – so they need to be left in the ground over the winter. Kale, parsnips and carrots are good examples of biennial vegetables.
Tune into the next episode (Part 2 of Saving Seeds) next week.