Most years, gardeners have concerns and questions for me about seed production, availability, and viability, but more so in the last 3 years thank to the unusual circumstances of the recent Pandemic. Will seed be available next year? How should I store my seeds and how long will stored seeds last? Can I harvest my own seed and how should I do that? What’s the difference between open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seeds? These are valid and reasonable questions, but the answers aren’t nearly as simple or practical as the average gardener would like to hear. In most cases - and don’t think I’m saying this just because I own a seed business - it’s way easier to just buy extra seeds and store them properly than it is to harvest your own. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Seed production has been very consistent for the last few decades, even during the pandemic and surge of demand caused by the increase in gardening & food storage. However, every year there are a few different varieties of seeds that have limited or no production at all because of various factors: weather, season length, insects, disease, etc. A few years ago it was Blue Lake bush beans, this year it’s Ambrosia sweet corn. It’s normal. I anticipate that seed production will be amazing for the next year or so since we’re experiencing a wet winter, and drought has definitely effected seed production for the last few years. You can anticipate a steady crop next year and probably for years to come.
Storing seeds can be as simple as a shoe box in the basement or as complicated as computerized indexing, vacuum packing and a deep freezer. Most seeds, if stored properly, can maintain good germination for anywhere from 2-5 years. Optimum conditions for seeds storage is low humidity and low temperatures. Too hot, and too moist can usually cause significant decreases in germination and the non-viability of your seed. I recommend a cool, dry place in your basement, preferably in the packages you purchased them in, or in a plastic re-sealable bag if you live in a low-humidity locale (we do). Freezing the seeds can increase their shelf life up to 10 years, but make sure they are air tight and no extra moisture can get into your container - that extra moisture will do more damage than the freezing temperatures will do good.
Harvesting your own seeds from your own garden gets much more complicated. Some seeds are easy to harvest and prepare for storage to use during the next growing season like tomatoes, peppers and legumes (beans & peas). Others are tricky, need extra effort to prevent cross pollination and can be problematic like sweet corn and the cucurbit family (squash, melons, cucumbers). Seeds that come from biennial vegetables (like carrots, beets, and the brassica family: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) just aren’t worth the time and effort expended to prevent cross pollination and harvesting limitations. Biennial vegetables need 2 growing seasons to produce seed and they easily cross with other plants - including wild varieties - as bees do most of the pollination. It’s complicated, but doable. The one advantage we have living in Utah is the dry climate, so it does make it much easier to prepare and dry the seeds after harvesting without investing in equipment. For those of you interested in trying this for yourself, I have some great resources that will walk you through the whole process, don’t hesitate to come ask if you want to learn more.
When it comes to the seeds themselves, they are fairly easy to classify. Hybrid seeds have been strategically created with controlled, standard crossing of pollen from 2 different parents, in the hopes of creating a new variety with the best qualities of each parent creating a new synergy of possibilities (more productive, disease resistant, better quality, etc.). Producing this type of seed is difficult and time consuming, but ultimately very rewarding with newly created genetics. Open-pollinated seed is created by self-pollination - for example, a female flower of a Banana squash in pollinated by a male flower of a Banana squash, resulting in similar genetics. Heirloom seeds can be either hybrid or open-pollinated, but have been in use for 75 years or longer. Open-pollinated seeds traditionally are easier to keep true to the parents and harvest for future use while hybrids are difficult to retain their qualities after the first growing season because of cross-pollenisation.
Dollar for dollar, when it comes down to it, seeds are one of the greatest investments that you could ever make whether you buy, store, or harvest your own. Think about it, one corn seed can produce hundreds of seeds. One tomato seed can produce literally thousands of seeds. There’s no return on investment in the banking world like it. Not to mention, how worthwhile it is to eat some of that investment. And, at Anderson’s Seed & Garden, we have the seeds that you need.
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