seed saving

Wet processing includes all fleshy fruit. Tomato, eggplant, pepper, all cucurbit and any seed enveloped in a fruit. When harvesting the fleshy fruits seeds must be mature that means that different plants mature at different stages, mostly when they change to their final color. Harvest when:

  • Tomato – when ready to eat its ready for harvest.
  • Pepper – changes to its final color usually red.
  • Eggplant- losses its shin and changes color to yellow.
  • Melon – changes color, stripes appear and usually disconnects from the vine.
  • Watermelon – when ripe.
  • Cucumber – changes color usually yellow.
  • Squash – when ripe, the skin is hard and doesn’t puncture with your fingernail.

The seeds of a fruit are protected by a gelatinous coat which contains germination inhibiting compounds. Nature’s method of removing the seed’s sugar coating, Happens after the fruit falls on the soil. It then ferments and decomposes and the coating is shed. We must do the same when processing artificially.  Seeds are taken out of the fruit with their juice and left to ferment. In a way that natural yeast, bacteria and fungi can use the sugars to ferment and shed the coating of the seed.  The seeds are now washed clean, placed on a screen with air circulation to dray for a day and then bagged and transferred for a final drying in a dry room with low humidity for a few months.

The desired water content of a seed for long term storage is around 5%. High water content will shorten life span of the seed. When frozen water expands and brakes cell walls, killing the seed. With low water content of 3% and below, the seed coat will prevent water from entering the seed and germination won’t occur.

 

With over 35 workshops, garden hayrides, a barn dance and four keynote addresses, I enjoyed a full weekend of seed-saving celebration and information at Heritage Farm.

I spent this weekend meeting amazing people with amazing stories to tell, and went to inspirational talks and workshops about seed saving. some of my fevered talks where:

Craig LeHoullier – tomorrow’s Heirlooms, Breeding new tomato varieties.

Woody Tasch – Slow Money- Investing as food, farms & Fertility matters, his book is a must for everyone and his ideas are the future.

Matthew Dillon- Community Seed System, past and present. You wont believe what the big companies did to take over the seed system.

*Later on they interviewed me for a documentary they are filming.

Jeff McCormack- Isolation distances, principles & practices. Founder, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

31st Annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout


The simplest way of controlled pollination is using distance isolation (Caging is expensive and hand pollination is labor intensive). Definition: isolation distance is the minimum separation required between tow or more verities of the same species (same genus or family) for the purpose of keeping pure seeds.

Some plants are protected from crossings by just small distance, such as lettuce, eggplant, tomato. Others, such as peppers may need a much larger isolation distance.  Corn, a wind pollinated plant can cross at distances up to 7 Km.

Distance varies from species to species do to difference in flower structure and pollination (wind, insects, self). Isolation recommendations are available on line, but many environmental factors can affect how far or effectively wind or insect can transfer pollen. Consider adjusting recommended isolation distance.

Important thing about distance isolation- every time you double the isolation distance between tow crops that can cross, the amount of cross-pollination decreases by 4.

Factors to be considered: get to know your gardening neighbors and aria

Increased isolation required-

  • Plant population size.
  • Grater number of varieties.
  • Large number of pollinators present.

Decreased isolation permitted-

  • Presence of tall barrier crops or pollen bearing crop.
  • Presence of alternate pollen source for pollinators.
  • Plants planted in blocks rather then long rows.
  • Collection of seeds from center of block planting.
  • Staggered blooming times between plants (time isolation).

 

Plants are the most fundamental organism in nature. They are able to photosynthesise, accumulate carbon and release oxygen into the atmosphere, and sometimes, like in the case of the majestic Sequoia trees, can live up for over three millennia.

All of nature is succumbed by plant life. Micro-organisms like nematodes, fungi and bacteria keep the soil healthy and strengthen and protect plants. Animals, birds, insects, water and the wind disperse their seeds to all corners of the earth in their endless verities and all life entwined to their success.

To serve their distribution needs humans transplanted, changed and redesigned plant life throughout the world. For over 10,000 years gardeners and scientists have experimented with the genetics of food plants through cross-pollination, selection and the enhancing of desired traits. While holding seeds in our hand when planting, we cannot comprehend the amount of history contained in the seeds, both of what has come before and what is to come.

In these modern days of mass extinction, huge corporations struggle to find solutions against natural devastation they have created. Where the majority of humans live disconnected from natural life we are losing plant diversity at a striking speed.

The mission of protecting our human plant history involves each and every one of us. The skills of seed saving and preservation are essential for organic gardeners and fundamental for agriculture. Gardeners should be able to grow and maintain their own seeds as the base of controlling their productivity. Seed preservation was the first skill by which humans developed agriculture and transformed from hunter-gatherer societies toward a settled existence, and enabled mankind to pursue different aspects of human existence that brought about technological advancement.

Today saving and sharing of heirloom seeds is essential in creating a sustainable eco-organic society that is sustainable for future generations.

 

 

In a perfect flower fertilization usually occurs with in each flower and dose not need special attention.

For wind and insect pollinated plants, there are mainly four different techniques for maintaining a pure seed of desired verity, keeping them from contamination throw cross-pollination.

Isolation by Distance- isolation of one plant verity by distances that is large info to prevent cross-pollination throw wind or insects. The distance varies from species to species and there are many recommendations for every species.

Isolation by time- crops from the same species can be planted at different times so they won’t simultaneously flower. This works only given a sufficiently long growing season and only for plants that flower in one burst.

 

Caging with introduced pollinators- constructing a physical barrier made from a frame and screen to prevent cross-pollination of insect-pollinated plants. These techniques are good for plants that can self-pollinate and do not show inbreeding depression. Quenelles hives called Nucs, with ready to hatch bees are placed inside the cage as if that was their world. At seed saver we use  mason bees and alfalfa leaf cotters.

 

 

 

 

 

Hand pollination- especially corn, hand pollination is very commonly used technique of producing pure seeds. Bagging using cloth or paper bags to cover a flower act as a pollen barrier (be aware that temperatures wont be too high inside the bags), some crops can’t be allowed to self pollinate do to inbreeding depression resulting in low yield and unable to produce any seed.

For Diocese species, kept under constant isolation, transferring uncontaminated pollen from male plants\flowers onto the receptive stigma of female flowers. Plant Hand sex.

 

 

 

Like most other living organisms plants have both male and female reproductive organs, often within the same plant or flower. The male part of a flower produces pollen in what is called the anther. It ripens and exposes the pollen grains. The female part of a flower is called the pistil, and consist of a stigma (which is receptive to pollen), a style (which carries pollen to the ovary) and ovaries (one or more). The ovaries eventually turn into the fruit.

In order to maintain pure seeds, pollen from one variety must come in contact with a stigma of the same variety, and reject pollen from all other verities within the species. If pollen from a different variety of the species crosses, the seed will not be true to type.

  • Perfect flower is called monoecious (“one house”) – it houses both male and female reproductive organs and is able to self-pollinate. Fertilization usually occures within each individual flower and most likely does not depend on insects. Some perfect flowers ripen the pollen before the stigma is mature. These do not self-pollinate and rely on insects or wind for pollination.
  • Imperfect or dioecious flowers (“two houses”) as cross-pollinated species they produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Pollinated through wind, insects or other physical methods.
  • Self-incompatible plants – Here male plants produce only pollen and female plants produce only seed. They rely greatly on insect pollination.

 

Wind pollination – Many grains, grasses and trees rely on wind pollination. The most commonly known example is corn where pollen is produced on the top of the stalk. When the wind shakes the plant pollen falls from the tassels onto the silks that produce corn kernels.

 

Honeybees are the main pollinators for industrialized crops, and are very efficient in their tendency to target flowers of same color and type. Many more efficient pollinators exist, such as bumblebees, sweat bees, wild bees and flies which are much more random in their search for pollen. Inefficient pollinators like moths, butterflies and wasp are covered with scales or coarse spines that are not adapted to transfer pollen.

definitions:

Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been passed down the generations for a minimum of 50 years. They are mostly open-pollinated varieties and usually have a history attached to them. Many heirloom seeds are resistant to many diseases in their place of origin.

Open-pollinated are commonly created by random mating within a populations carrying the same genes and tend to express uniform traits or phenotypes. These describe more recent varieties than heirloom seeds.

Hybrid varieties are created by crossing two plants or verity lines within a species, producing uniform offspring that have two different sets of genes.

The F1 generation will be uniform taking the traits from the dominant allele (an alternative version of a gene) of his parents, thus allowing hybrids to deal with many different types of environmental conditions, which let them to grow faster and stand shipping etc. Most hybrids will produce seeds because they are a cross between two varieties of the same species (crosses between different species are sterile, like seedless watermelons). The F2 generation undergoes segregation, i.e. offspring with different phenotypes due to reshuffling of the alleles.

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These seeds cannot be saved for their parental traits. This segregation is the reason why farmers have to buy new hybrid seeds each year from the company, and are therefore dependent on the seed company which can suddenly stop producing a variety that no one else is able to reproduce.

Unfortunately, breeding and selection of open-pollinated varieties has almost been abandoned entirely and some heirloom varieties have gone instinct. The widespread use of chemicals in modern mono-agriculture has resulted in eroding resistance in plant crops worldwide.

Seed saving is fundamental to preserve and improve agricultural biodiversity and resistance to diseases.