To Save The Best Seed We Need To Start With The Best Plants. But Which Plants Are Best? Here’s How To Get The Best Home Saved Seeds.

Seed saving is far more effective when we select the right plants to take seed from, at the right time and at the right stage. The most common problem people encounter is selecting the right plants to take seed from. If they get it wrong then seed quality suffers. 

Seed come in all sort of shapes and sizes.

Recognising Unsuitable Plants For Seed Saving

If you wanted to breed a racehorse you want to select the very fastest parents and breed from them. You wouldn’t select the young from a cart horse or a Shetland pony. The first may well be very strong but they don’t move very fast. And the pony is small in stature and also unlikely to move very fast. 

Ideally, to breed a racehorse you’d select a mare and a stallion that were really fast had won plenty of races.

Vegetable seeds need to be looked at as if they were racehorses. 

We don’t of course want fast vegetables. But we do want quality veg. We want those that are typical of their variety, able to supply us with seed that are also typical of their variety. We don’t want the equivalent of carthorses or ponies.

We don’t want to do is cross two really unsuitable plants, as we are very unlikely to get progeny that are of the quality, size, flavour etc that we want.

So we need to weed out all the plants that are the wrong size, shape, colour etc. We also want to weed out those that mature far too late or go woody or .. well you get the idea, we need to weed out any plants that aren’t typical as they will make bad parents.

Open Pollinated Plants for Seed Saving

We don’t always know the parentage of our seeds. But is doesn’t matter when we select from open pollinated plants. In this case we can select from what we can see and know they are very likely to be true to type.

Said crops own a field scale

For example if we are after tomato seed we can look at the plants we have and decide which ones are typical of what we want our next generation to be. So we only take seed from the ones that are typical of their type. I used to select my own seed from the Moneymaker I grew.

I used to grew around 10,000 plants a year so had plenty of choice. Id look for maybe 6-7 plants that looked perfect. They’d be well grown with good leaves and good sized trusses. I didn’t want any tha thad huge trusses with 20-30 flowers as that east typical of the variety. Nor were trusses with fewer than 8-9 flowers and well formed fruit. If they produced fewer but bigger fruit they weren’t typical of what I wanted. Commercial tomatoes are graded and sold in boxes of a specific size. And I wanted a grade 1 C or ideally a D size. the ideal size was 47-57mm diameter.

Why that size? Because they were the ones that customers bought when given a choice. Unless of course they were after cherry tomatoes or beefsteak toms where the preferred size and weight was totally different.

As amateur growers we don’t need to worry quite so much about grade and size. We want flavour, etc from a tomato that is the “right” size to suit us. But if we are after a specific variety then it makes sense to ensure the sed is typical of that variety.

Selecting For Flavour, Shape and Colour

Part of the plant section process also involved checking the flavour. There’s no point selecting the right number of toms pe truss if the fruit is not of good flavour. Varieties such as Moneymaker are fairly stable when it comes to flavour with the right balance of sugar and acidity to suit most people. But if we randomly selected without considering flavour we could find the flavour deteriorates over a few generations.

Ditto the shape of the fruit. We don’t want ribs or boxy fruit. In th e case of Moneymaker they should be globular and even shaped. And the colour should be perfect. Starting green, through orange to a pleasing deep red. We don’t want this with greenback and, in this case. we don’t want those that are black, purple, yellow or whatever. Of course if I were saving a yellow variety I wouldn’t save seed from one that was perfectly yellow! that’s what I mean by saying they should be typical of the variety.

Not Just Tomato Seed

The same principles apply when we select other crops for seed. Lettuce need to be typical of the sort were are selecting for seed. Cos lettuce want to be be big, heavy upright plants of the right colour. and crisp lettuce need to be of the right size and density with a satisfying crunch. And if butterhead varieties are more to your liking then they need to be of good shape, size and texture, typical of the named variety.

Beetroot want to be an ideal size, not too big and not too small. Turnips of the right colour, shape and size. Celery such s Lathoms self blanching need to be suitably self-blanching, upright and of good weight. A well grow, fully mature Lathom will weigh 32 oz+ when trimmed and ready for packing. If they haven’t reached that size when you decide to select them for seed production then I’d worry that they weren’t typical of the variety.

Whatever we grow for seed needs to be really good. They should be the best plants in the field, garden , greenhouse to wherever. Eating the best and saving seed from the poorer plants is the way to ensure inferior crops in future!

Save Seed From Enough Plants

In most cases we need to save seed from several plants and mix it together. That way we are ensuring we average out the characteristics. Otherwise w might find an undesirable characteristic creeps in and we no longer have the capacity to respect from plants that give us options. It’s a bit like avoiding inbreeding from our racehorses. If you keep breeding from exactly the same line, crossing parents with progeny, you will get all sorts of genetic problems. So it is with carrots, tomatoes, celery etc.

Avoid Genetic Drift

Genetic drift comes form bad practices. Either from back crossing to parent plants or not selecting the best plants.

If we select from poor plants we only have the genetic potential of these plants. They will never breed winners. In any population there will be a range of genetic potential. Its like having a field of racehorse, carthorses and ponies. If we leave them to it we end up with an average size more. It’s the same with dogs. Loveable as mongrels can be they are the result of cross breeding between breeds (what we call varieties in vegetables). Mongrels don’t win races against those bred to win races!

Selecting Better Seed Than The Professionals

Most seed house now outsource a lot of their seed production. Often its to overseas producers where the plants have to endure the climate there, not here!

And some seed producers don’t rogue out the poor quality plants. They leave the large, small and misshapen fruit to roots and harvest seed from all of them. That allows poor genetic material to be saved and the seeds later planted, resulting in poor crops.

Wha three should be doing is to walk through the crops to rogue out the poor quality plants, thus preventing them from producing seed that enters the mix we then sow in our gardens and allotments.

Hand roguing plants is an important part of seed production and one, that as amateurs, we can often do better than the seed producers.

More on Seeds & Seed Saving ..

There’s a lot more on seeds via the links below or at wikipedia

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