Saving late season tomato seeds. (Mary Lowther photo)

Saving late season tomato seeds. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Growing out and saving seed for next year

I progressed to the potential heresy of growing some plants specifically to harvest the seed

By Mary Lowther

I used to imagine that saving seeds was an arcane process best left to agricultural professionals who laboured in massive, brilliantly lit greenhouses, toiling over row on row of perfect plants with magnifying glass and monocle to select only the finest varieties to fill their colourful packets. After all, the authorities assure us that seed collection requires many plants in order to produce viable, healthy strains worthy of propagation, and anything less results in inbred stock. Think of a vegetable equivalent to the Romanov dynasty.

Over the years, however, I have come to doubt the omniscience of the horticultural alchemists and their need for an industrial complex to provide next year’s crop. Thus I progressed to the potential heresy of growing some plants specifically to harvest the seed from varieties that have done well in my specific climate and soil conditions.

My garden grows in 1,000 square feet, and my presumably inbred stock nonetheless produce mighty fine fruit and vegetables. The Buttercrunch lettuce whose ancestor I first grew 20 years ago still fills our salad bowls every spring. Seeds from an organic Delicata squash I bought three years ago produced tasty gourds again this year.

I look for plants with qualities I want to foster, like lettuce and cabbage that don’t bolt early, or squash that store well. Given the predilection for some crops to cross-fertilize in a space as small as my backyard, I only grow one variety out to seed per growing season. Sometimes I intentionally cross-pollinate; last year I tried it with two varieties of corn, both of which were open pollinated, and the resulting seeds turned out great.

We can save money by growing our own seeds while acclimatizing them to our own microclimates and retaining characteristics we like. By dating our seed packets we know how fresh they are and can sow them as long as we like, just to see how long they remain viable.

Annuals like peas, beans, lettuce and radishes produce seed the same year they are planted, but biennials like cabbages and carrots must go through a winter before they go to seed. I follow advice from experienced propagators and ferment tomato, cucumber and squash seeds before I store them. I scrape seeds and pulp out of the fruit and put them into a jar along with enough water to well cover the seeds, then screw the lid on, shake up the slurry, loosen the lid and let the jar sit for three days. Apparently the lactic acid buildup destroys possible pathogens and the stored seed is less likely to mould. After three days I remove any floating seeds along with pulp, drain off the water and strain the seeds that have fallen to the bottom. I dry them on a flat tray out of the sun and store them in labeled packets in jars in my cold, dry pantry.

Three years ago I grew out garlic seeds and each July I’ve pulled them up and re-planted them with larger separation between them the following October. Last month they were about half an inch in diameter when I replanted them, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. This year I pulled off asparagus seeds when they turned red and have dried and saved them to sow next spring. I was going to pull out the female plants I got the seeds from because males apparently outperform females significantly (it had to happen sometime!) but the season got away on me, the unpicked seeds all dropped off and now I can’t remember which is which.

If you’ve been careful to avoid cross-pollination, you might want to share your seeds, given how abundantly overachieving plants produce. However, if you get seeds from someone who is not a commercial grower, make sure that they have followed protocols to avoid cross pollination. Ask them how they grew their seed. I once bought a packet of seed labeled “zucchini” at a Seedy Saturday table and it grew into a cross between a zucchini and a winter squash that didn’t taste good. It pays to know your sources.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The organizers of the annual 39 days of July festival hope to return to live shows in Charles Hoey Park this year, like in this photo taken in 2019, but audiences at the show may be limited to 50 people due to health protocols. (File photo)
39 Days of July hoping for outdoor events in Duncan this summer

Annual music festival will run from June 25 to Aug. 2 this year

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

Oak Bay resident Hugh Thompson died Friday, May 7. (GoFundMe photo)
Oak Bay dad dies mountain biking near Shawnigan Lake

Community rallies around family with online fundraiser

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old bike rider on Vancouver Island already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

Most Read