Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thoughts on Seed Saving and Hybrids

Growing up, I always thought that if you planted the seeds of a tomato, you would grow the same kind of tomato plant. It turns out that that's not always the case.

The seeds in a fruit or vegetable usually have the genes of a mother and father plant. Whatever type of plant polinated the fruiting plant will determine what happens genetically. So the first reason the seeds might not do what you want is because they're from two different kinds of plants. As an example, crab apple trees are frequently used to polinate other apple trees. A crab apple Honeycrisp mix is probably not going to be that tasty.

So let's say you're careful. You hand polinate a plant so you know that the pollen came from the same type of plant. It's all good, right?

Maybe, but probably not. Unless the seeds say "Open Pollination" or "Heirloom" the plants you grow will probably be sterile. Seeds that say Hybrid on them will likely be sterile or produce a different type of offspring.

The solution to seeds that don't sprout is to use Open Pollinated or Heirloom seeds. You can save the seeds from those plants, and replant them the next year. I have noted previously that we spent over $160 on seeds this year. If I had seeds from a previous  garden, I wouldn't have to buy seeds again.

By now you're probably thinking "cool, he's going to start saving seeds this fall then". Well, maybe. Here's the thing. Some seeds need to be fermented before they can be saved. Others need to get a cold treatment to simulate being left out over winter. Then they have to be dried and stored propperly. Keeping track of what needs to be done to what kind of plant is starting to sound like real work! I am not 100% convinced that it's worth it.

The issue of making sure that the seeds I am saving aren't crossbreeds is also a concern. My garden is small and diverse enough that the brandywine tomato could be pollinated by the roma tomato. Making sure that isn't the case would require me to either plant only one kind of tomato or to manually polinate the seed tomatoes. Again, more work.

The other issue I have with seed saving is that gardening to me is about the food I get out of it. Many of the hybrids are more productive or disease resistant than their heirloom counterparts. Besides, I intend to eat every last one of my tomatoes -- I don't think I'll be able to save any if I wanted to.


AnnaMarie Ferrell said...

Whoa! I almost fell asleep! Just eat your food. And buy your seeds next year.

AnnaMarie Ferrell said...


Tyler said...

Wow, you know more about seeds and gardening than anyone I have ever met! I can't wait to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor!