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Sowing the seeds of a lovely garden


In the long ago days before genetic manipulation, gardeners and farmers constantly improved seed strains by saving seeds from their very best plants. Selecting for the earliest flowers, the biggest fruit, or the most flavourful vegetables produced seed strains specific to their garden conditions and tastes.

Many of these have traveled across the world with our ancestors to end up in all corners of the globe, passed down from generation to generation.

Anyone can experience the pleasure of sowing a handful of seeds kept from the previous year, providing you know a little about the plant from which you have taken the seeds.

Annual vegetables and flowers, who live their entire lives in one season, are the easiest to collect and grow. Perennial plants usually take more than one year to develop flowers and consequently seeds, and trees can take considerably longer.

Commercially produced first generation hybrids (F1) seeds produce vigorous plants, but usually no worthwhile seeds of their own. Many of the named cultivars and hybrids do not produce seed. If they do, their seedlings will have a shuffled mix of genes and will generally not be as fabulous as their parents.

When you have decided to save seeds from a parent plant, select a few promising seed heads and tag them so you won't prune them by mistake. Select bean pods early in the season to give them time to ripen. A note though, some people find ripening seeds in the garden attractive, others find them messy. Choosing inconspicuous stems can sometimes prevent this.

Wait until the seeds are hard and the tops of the stems turn brown. These seeds will have maximum available energy, which will help them grow better. Avoid picking green seeds - they will not ripen once picked. Some plants such as violets drop their seeds as soon as they ripen, so they need frequent checking.

On a sunny day, arm yourself with paper bags, pruners and a pen. Cut the stems and place them upside down in the bag. Write the name of the plant and date on the bag, and let stand in a warm room for a few days. With any luck, your seeds will have cleanly been released into the paper bag. Simply empty them into a clearly marked container for storage. Make sure they are kept at constant temperature and humidity; the easiest place to find this in our homes is either the fridge or the freezer.

Large seeds, such a peas and beans, need air exchange and keep well in cotton bags at room temperature. Seed stored in the fridge can be kept in old pill bottles, film canisters or envelopes tucked into Ziploc bags.

In order to save time in the spring, I sort all my seeds according to when they need to be sown in the garden, and store them accordingly. Most seeds will remain viable for several years, and it's always a good idea to only sow half your seeds at a time - in case of bad weather or insects, you have an opportunity to replant.

The biggest warning to come from collecting your own seeds - this practice is very rewarding and extremely habit forming. Who knows? Your garden may be the first in Sea to Sky to become completely self-sufficient. Save some seed for me. Good Gardening.

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