Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saving Seed

I already have enough information to create a number of blogs on saving seeds so expect the subject to pop up frequently. It is going to be one of my big pushes in gardening this summer as self-sufficiency takes a leap to a whole nother height. Food production is a huge part of providing for ourselves. I'm learning that this seed saving thing is complicated. I can't tell you how many people I've run into recently that think if they have heirloom seeds there worries are over. That is only a tiny fraction of the project.

I wish I would have started years ago but I was busy following the traditional way of gardening buying plants from the local nurseries and buying seeds from the local feeds store and such and then I discovered that those seeds and plants weren't necessarily the best for our area. They were instead targeted for a five state area. Growing a garden is challenging enough in this horrible soil and harsh weather and I figured I needed all the help I could get so I began to read becoming aware of non hybrid seeds and heirloom seeds. I of course chose heirloom and began the hunt for varieties that grew best in our severe clay soil, unpredictable weather and wind, and short growing season. I found that if you were at all particular you have to do it yourself.

The first lesson being that nothing grows well in this soil so I have to grow on top of it more than in it.

I've been at this awhile since other pursuits and family take up a good deal of my time. For example today I'm pecking at the keys one handed as I hold a sick baby and stop to play cards with the four year old grand daughter. Where there is a will there is a way . It just may need to be done differently or on another scale so keep that in mind.

This testing stage of varieties takes a while as it is at least three years before you know if a variety of tomato for example is what you really want. You have to learn the tricks of that particular plant. For instance I found out that Siberia tomatoes do well in cold weather as the catalogue stated but that doesn't mean they are cold hardy as transplants early in the spring, just when older and established. And though Glacier and Siberia have many of the same touted traits in the cataloge, Siberia's production far out weighed Glacier's in our area at least.

Washington Cherry tomatoes are huge for a cherry tomato and have been a trooper for the last five years a real keeper. On the other hand Long Keeper is still on trial and I didn't really get a chance to test its keeping ability last year so in they go again.Yet with the ones I love, I still have a new variety I ordered this year to test. Luckily tomatoes are self-pollinating and ten feet is all you need between varieties to be sure they don't have the slim chance of crossing with each other.

Figuring out which kinds to grow is just the beginning for along the way you need to learn how each type of vegetable is pollinated, what they can cross with and how to control this. Despite a books advice that if you plant different kinds of corn a few weeks apart that they will tassel at different times, I found in our area at least that is a falsehood. I planted sweet corn first and then Painted Mountain, they pollinated at the same time. I planted the earlier growing Painted Mountain first and then sweet corn and still they pollinated at the same time so it wasn't because the plants had a different time table. I suspect weather is the trigger in our area for pollination. I was tempted to save kernels that were the right color but how is one to really know if some of those yellow kernels are taking after sweet corn and really have a Painted Mountain dad in the mix?

So though I really like Painted Mountain and am still not completely settled on a sweet corn, I now have to figure out a planting rotation program for them. One or two years of raising sweet corn and a year of Painted Mountain. That is going to be hard because what is summer without sweet corn? I definitely don't have two miles in which to separate them to insure seed purity. I do have the benefit that there are extremely few gardens in town and almost none with corn so neighboring gardens aren't threat.

There is a third choice beyond rotation, and distance separation. It is where you cover the silks, which is the female part, with paper bags and tie at the bottom to keep the tassels, which are the guys, from doing any hanky panky with the ladies. They recommend you do at least 15 to 20 plants for not every ear will be of the size and quality you want to save seed from. This means hand pollinating.

And just in case you didn't know each silk is attached to where a kernel will develop and must be pollinated for the kernel to form so I'm going to need to learn how to insure each silk has her one night stand through hand pollinating. Which means my arranging the brief marriage or affair, which ever way you look at it.

The other seed rotation factor is how long each individual kind of seed will keep. The larger seeds in general keeping far longer than the small. I have to keep in mind just how many years seed will store and still germinate at what rates. Sweet corn is good for three years but flint, dent, and popcorn are five to ten years. So that means I can grow sweet corn a couple years and then Painted Mountain. But what about popcorn. I love popcorn so how do I put it into the roatation? Then since I've never grown it before what kinds should I try?

Plus, how can I figure in crop failure possibilities into this formula? I'm thinking I'd better learn hand pollinating of corn so I can do more than one variety each year such as popcorn and sweet corn one year and Painted Mountain and sweet corn the next. I know squirrel moment but how about looser woven muslin bags instead of paper for coverings? Hmm.... that would be more realistic in a self-sustaining sense. Maybe I should make some. I know plastic is a bad idea because too much heat builds up inside.

Getting the idea? Self-sufficiency doesn't happen over night. You just can't learn all you need at a fast enough rate. It would help if I had a mentor but there isn't one to be seen that I've found. Most do a couple raised beds or give up on gardening all together in our part of the county. Then again I don't know of anyone in the county with my level of interest.

Corn is easy because each year it produces seed but what about onions. Yes, I found a kind I really liked last year after raising onions for ten years or so. They grew well in drought conditions and have a great storing ability but this is only year one. Now I have to put some back in the ground to grow seeds. Yes, onions form seeds the second year and if those bulbs you put in the ground went to seed the first year don't keep them. They aren't what you want said one web site. Sounds wise to me. I've lamented before about my problems growing onions from seed so I won't go into it but just know it has been a several year project with many more experiments to try this year. See this seed saving is not for the faint of heart if you live in a short cool season gardening area.

Squash and pumpkins also have to be closed up and hand pollinated if you grow those in the same family and I'm not talking about all pumpkins or all squash. I'm talking about specific species so you need to learn their scientific names to know if they are in the same family to build your roatation plan. I'm still working on this one to know what I want to hand pollinate and what to rotate. After all I can't hand pollinate and cover the whole garden from each other.

As I said I will go into this rotation and seed saving plan futher but first I want to give you a tip from a web site for those of you doing your emergency prepareness plans to wet your appetite. 
    If you see a package for sale of so called Survival seeds, and it includes onions and radishes, you can be sure who ever selected the seeds to include, doesn't know what they are doing. If the crops are mostly light salad vegetables, what good will that do you when you are really hungry? String beans won't fill you up either. You need carbohydrates from starchy vegetables and protein from beans and grain. No other grain yields as well, and is as easy to harvest and grow with out machinery as corn.For really long term storage, a freezer has worked very well for usOur seed collections come sealed in aluminum coated vapor barrier bags, with a packet to absorb excess moisture. It will keep years longer because of that. . The 'Grampa Neff' beans we planted in 2007 had been in the freezer for over 20 years, and they grew fine.Many people don't realize it, but water vapor will move slowly through plastic containers. For long term food storage, thick plastic buckets won't even keep grain completely dry. Glass, metal, or plastic WITH an aluminum vapor barrier will block all the moisture.

I'm still formulating a freezer seed storage plan. In part because there is never enough freezer room so what will I put in?

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