During late summer many gardeners begin to think about saving seeds from garden vegetables for planting next year.
For open pollinated vegetable varieties this practice works; for hybrid varieties, it can be a disaster. Many gardeners plant "hybrid" cultivars and should not save the seeds from hybrid plants.
To produce a specific hybrid cultivar, specific inbred lines must be crossbred.
Seeds from this planned crossing of inbred lines are genetically unique. They cannot be successfully reproduced except by repeating the cross using the same inbred lines as parents. When flowers from hybrid plants are pollinated, they may fail to produce viable seeds.
If they do produce viable seeds, the plants resulting may display an unpredictable assortment of characteristics passed down from ancestral lines.
They will probably be quite unlike the hybrid parent.
Therefore, seeds from hybrid cultivars cannot be saved for planting the next year; new seeds must be produced each year by crossing the pure parental lines.
Seeds from standard open-pollinated cultivars may be saved for subsequent planting and will be true to type provided that cross-pollination with other (different) cultivars is prevented.
If seeds are to be saved, they should be harvested only after reaching maturity. Seeds enclosed in fleshy fruits such as melons or tomatoes are usually mature when the fruit is fully ripe.
For summer squash, eggplant and cucumber this would be about two to three weeks after they are "table ready."
Edible seeds such as corn, peas and beans usually need to ripen several weeks beyond the tender eating state.
Mature seeds should be separated from the fruit, cob, hull or other associated tissue and dried. Seeds from fleshy fruits such as tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, eggplants and cucumbers should be separated from the fruit, rinsed with water and allowed to dry on paper towels.
Seeds in pods are usually allowed to dry in the pods.
Drying the seeds to remove excessive moisture and then keeping the seeds dry are the primary factors contributing to successful storage. Seeds should be stored at room temperature or cooler. For small containers of seeds, a refrigerator (about 45 degrees F) is ideal.
Maximum storage life is achieved by placing seeds in a freezer.
Make certain that seeds are properly dried and in a moisture-proof container before placing them in the freezer.
After removing seeds from the freezer, allow them to reach room temperature before handling them. Seeds are fragile when frozen.
If collected, dried and stored properly, most garden seeds will germinate satisfactorily for one to three years.
If a hybrid cultivar is not involved, if genetic purity is maintained by planting only one cultivar or by space or time isolation, and if disease-free seeds are collected when mature and properly dried and stored, seeds may be successfully saved from the garden.
In other words, saving seeds can and is done by gardeners but takes time to do it right.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.