Only the very best plants in the allotment or garden – the best as to yield, size and so on – are worth saving seed from. For seed saved from weakly, unhealthy or poor-cropping plants will inevitably produce similar low-standard plants in turn; nothing at all can be done in the way of cultivation to help poor-parentage seedlings build up into good plants. The result is inevitably a thoroughly unsatisfactory crop, wasted time, labour and ground.
Another point to be considered is the cross-fertilization of some vegetable plants; insects or wind, or both, convey pollen from the flowers of one variety of, for example, cabbage to the flowers of another variety of cabbage. The seed that results will produce a mixture of progeny; these plants will not be true to type. This cross-fertilization does not necessarily always happen, but the big seed growers – who take pride in keeping their stocks true to type – guard against chance cross-fertilization by isolating individual varieties of the same vegetable, growing them (for seed production) as far apart as possible.
Moreover, those plants that are to produce seed for sale are inspected at intervals during spring and summer and any that are not themselves absolutely true to type are pulled up and burned.
Saving Bean and Pea Seeds.
The seeds most commonly home-saved for next year sowing are those of beans and peas, and results are satisfactory providing the best pods, well packed with good, sound seed, are selected for the purpose.
The seed must be ripe when put away for the winter, or it will be useless. To that end the plants from which seed is to be saved must be left to grow on until the pods are yellow or brown. When that change of colour has taken place the seeds within the pods have become hard. To make certain they really are thoroughly ripened, the plants can be pulled up and laid out so as to expose the pods to all the sun that is going, until they are baked dry.
If there is more rain than sun the plants could be hung up under cover, where plenty of fresh arr circulates, until pods are quite dsry.
There is no trouble about harvesting seed of vegetable marrow or obtaining enough to fill the next year’s needs, the fruit being packed tightly with big flat seed. A specially selected marrow should be left on the plant until as late in autumn as possible, to ripen completely. It is then sliced in half, lengthwise through the centre, and the seeds picked out of the pulp and dried in the sun for a day or two.
Next Year’s Tomatoes.
Where facilities exist for the home-raising of tomato plants it may be worth while saving a few seed from one or two of the finest fruits on a plant that happens to be outstanding because of its heavy yield and excellent behaviour generally. The selected tomatoes should be picked when quite ripe, opened, and the pulp rubbed in a folded cloth to remove the seed, this then being dried by exposure to sun.
Second-year Seeders. It is the nature of onion, beet, carrot, parsnip, and members of the cabbage tribe to flower and produce seed not during their first year of existence but when they are in their second. That makes it necessary for the grower who would get seed from them to make special provision for this second year of growth.
The few specimens that here and there in the rows run up to flower within a few weeks of being sown are behaving unusually, and this undesirable tendency to bolt would be passed on tiirough their seed. These therefore should be shunned as seed producers. The extra year of growth that is necessary for die second-year seeders is arranged for by replanting one or two specimens of each kind after the crop has been lifted – or cut, in the case of cabbage.
The flower-head of an onion results in a large quandty of seed, and the home food producer is not likely to want more than a couple of onion plants can produce. Bulbs selected from the general crop for their shape and size (both qualides to be typical of the particular variety) should be taken from store in February or March and planted about 12 in. apart in rich soil and a sunny, sheltered position. They should be just deep enough in the ground to remain steady in position, which means that the top half of each bulb will be exposed above die surface.
Water is to be given to the growing plants as needed, and when flower stems show, in early summer, each should be staked. A vigorous flower stem will reach 3 ft. in height, and without the support of a stake it might be broken or buffeted down by wind or heavy rain. The white flower mass will produce its seed and this will ripen in August or early September.
The pods or seed vessels must be watched, or they may burst and most of the seed be lost; when these start to turn brown the heads should be removed for drying inside a sunny window or greenhouse, resting on clean paper from which the fallen-out seed is later collected.
Other Root Crops.
Beet, carrot and parsnip that are required to produce seed are planted out, from store, and dealt with in the same manner as onion bulbs (already explained). Flower stems of beet are safer if given a stake; carrot and parsnip do not need this.
The flowers of these, and of onion, can be safeguarded against the possibility of receiving pollen from other varieties of their kind by having muslin bags slipped over their heads. But that must be done before the flowers actually open.
The Cabbage Tribe.
Members of the cabbage family produce seed in plenty if, after kitchen requirements have been taken from them, old plants are lifted and replanted where they will not be in the way. New growth will be made from the stems or stumps, and from that new growth will arise in due course flower stems productive of seed pods; the seed is removed from them when the pods have ripened.How to Store Seed.
Shelled out of their pods, or shaken from seed heads, the seeds should be examined and cleaned, so far as is possible. Large ones, such as peas and beans, can be rapidly looked over and any that have been pierced by grubs thrown out. Small ones can be scattered on the palm of one hand and blown at gently to remove grit, husks and other bits of rubbish.
They should then be put away in stout paper bags for winter storage beyond the influence of damp and heat and frost, and out of reach of rats and mice. A sure way of keeping seeds from these pests is to put them in tins with tight lids, or in jars or wide-mouthed bottles with screw-on caps or properly fitting corks.
Each bag, tin, jar or bottle should be labelled with the name and variety of the seed it contains.
New Seeds Best. Pea and bean seeds remain good for a couple of years, as also do onion and carrot; three years is the useful life of lettuce, parsley, spinach; and seed of die cabbage tribe is good for four years. Beet, cucumber, marrow have a span of five years, but parsnip seed is of no use when more than a year old.
The younger the seed of any kind of vegetable, the more numerous the seedlings that come up. The older the seed the more thickly it must be sown, because fewer will germinate. The unwisdom of relying on other than new seed is obvious.
Also it is not wise to rely entirely on home-saved seed of any particular vegetable crop that is to be grown more or less extensively. A portion of the crop should, if possible, be raised from purchased seed, just in case the home efforts are not rewarded with full success.