Spring onions or shallots as they are sometimes known often run to seed when weather warms in spring. Seed of green onions does not keep for long and seed collected for sowing next season will produce a vigorous crop as this seed will have come from plants that have adapted to your local soil and climate conditions. Leave several of your green onion plants to produce seed from their globular flower heads (umbrels). As seeds develop the umbrel appears like a globe of tiny greenish-white ‘buds’. As the seed matures the heads change to a pale grey and the buds begin to open and ripe, black seeds can be seen inside the buds. Not all the seeds ripen at the same time.
The usual method of collecting seed from these plants is to wait until most of the seed has ripened, then cut off the seed heads into a paper bag and leave the heads until the rest of the seed ripens and drops to the bottom of the bag. After all the seeds have been collected, they can be separated from the papery debris in the bag.
However, with this method, quite often the first seeds to ripen have dropped to the ground. I prefer to take a medium sized bowl or brown paper bag with me when I go to check the vege patch and while holding the bowl under each seed head, I give the seed head a gentle shake. The collected seed is then transferred to a labelled paper bag until all the seed has been collected. I get more seed with this method and it avoids having to separate the seed from the debris.
Annie recently e-mailed me her mother’s method of selecting fruits and pods for saving seed, and I thought it might be of interest to other readers. “My mother grew upon a farm in the south of Italy and she has always told me little gardening tips which I don’t always see written about. This summer that just went by for various reasons she left it too late to grow her own tomato seedlings, so she purchased them at great expense from a nursery. The plants looked healthy and grew vigorously until they were quite tall and we expected a bumper crop but the plants only produced flowers – near the very tops of the plants. She had some nice tomatoes but not many and they were all at the top of the plants. She then realised that these plants were grown from seeds from tomatoes that must have grown at the very top of the plant. Because her father always told her that the seeds should only be saved from the best tomatoes near the bottom of the plant. My grandfather said that if you keep the seeds from the tomatoes near the top of the plant the genes in those seeds only produce other plants that will grow tomatoes at the tops of the plants. This is the same for beans and other climbers.”
That is a good point, Annie. However, many gardeners remove the side (axillary) shoots on tomatoes until the plant gets close to the top of the stake, and the fruit forms on the side shoots – so they won’t have fruit forming low on the plant. Another point to remember is that warm night air has an effect on the amount of fruit set on tomatoes – have you noticed that they set little, if any, fruit as nights become cooler. In many parts of this country, warm nights only start to occur when the plants have reached a good size.
It is, though, long-standing gardening advice to try to save seed from the first fruits or seed pods to form, particularly corn, beans, broad beans, peas and tomatoes, so you will have to remember to leave some side shoots on your tomato plants if you want to save seed. Seed Savers recommend saving seed from the lower three hands of fruit, but add that you can save seed from anywhere on the bush. This relates to another important seed-saving adage: “Save the best and eat the rest“.
Consequently, when saving legume seed, I only select lower pods if they are well formed and full of seed. If lower pods are small, or have gaps between the seeds, we eat those; because seed from these pods could carry the characteristic of partly-filled pods. With corn, I only save the lowest cobs if they are a good size. Your corn and legume plants will probably need netting if you want to save seed because birds are very fond of seed left to mature on plants. Keep the netting well clear of the pods or cobs you want to save, as some birds are quite clever as hooking seed through netting.
Saving pea seed Click here
Saving tomato seed Click here
Garden peas that we sowed in early May have performed very well again this year and we have been able to freeze quite a lot. We have to net our peas to protect them from birds. We use arches of polypipe supported by garden stakes to hold the netting well clear of the plants, as King Parrots are clever at hooking the pods and pulling them through the netting. Pea flowers are self-pollinating, so netting won’t affect the size of your crop.
We grow our peas in soil with a pH of around 6.5, and we prepare the bed with compost and poultry–based complete fertiliser because peas won’t fix nitrogen unless the suitable rhizobium bacterium has been introduced to the soil. Once the seedlings had poked their heads above ground, we watered regularly.
However, cropping is almost over. We have left some well-filled pods about half way up the plants to set seed. They produce better seed than those saved at the end of harvest when the plants have exhausted most of their fertiliser supply. We have been saving seed from our peas since 2006, and get good germination without treating our seeds with any fungicide. Pea seeds are easy to save. Select only full sized pods that are full of seeds and allow them to mature on netted plants until the pods are brown and dry as in the photo. Ideally, they should be left of the plants until the seeds rattle in the pods but, sometimes, we have to harvest after pods brown, if rain is forecast. Don’t harvest pods for seed when they are wet, or the seed is likely to go mouldy.
The pods are spread on a fly screen frame, indoors, until completely dry and a fingernail will not make an indentation on the seed. The peas are then shelled and any blemished ones discarded. Seed is hung in an open paper bag for another week before storing in envelopes in an airtight container in a cool place. The benefit of saving your own seed is that it comes from plants that have grown well in your local microclimate.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, our broad beans were slow to produce pods because of an unusually cold winter. Broad beans are a combination of self-pollination and cross-pollination, and our broad beans do not start to set pods until bees become active in the garden.
Broad beans cease producing flowers when day temperatures are high (or when some pods have been allowed to reach maturity). Despite the shorter harvesting period this year, our small bed produced more broad beans than we could eat. During the harvesting period, I marked several of the healthiest plants and allowed the pods on these plants to fully mature for seed. In the photo below, the bean pods on the left are a perfect size to pick for use as a vegetable. The seeds in these pods are delicious and tender. Pods left on plants until they become spongy require both shelling and the removal of the outer seed coat.
The pods on the right of the photo are suitable to save as seed. Fully mature pods have lost their spongy feel and have become quite firm. It is recommended to allow pods to dry on the plants. However, as some of the pods were beginning to split (allowing the sun to damage the seeds), and rain was predicted, I brought the selected pods indoors to continue drying for a couple more days. Then I shelled the broad beans, and spread them on a flyscreen rack to continue drying. Seed is dry enough for packaging when firm pressure from a thumbnail will not leave a dent in the seed.
When saving seed from pea plants, follow the above advice for selecting suitable pods to save. Seed collected from pods near the base of pea plants is considered to be the best, but don’t let that deter you from saving seed if you have already picked those pods. It is best to leave pods on pea plants until seeds rattle within the pods. You will probably have to net the plants, or birds will eat the seed before it is ready to harvest. However, once pods have become thin-skinned and yellow, and rain is predicted, you can pull up the plants and hang them upside down indoors to prevent premature sprouting of seed. (If the pods a close to the base of large plants, I hang a portion of the plant for drying.)
When seeds rattle in their pods, shell them, and spread seeds on a rack for a few more days to ensure they are completely dry. Please note: unless your choice is extremely limited, only save seed from strong, disease-free plants that produce well-filled pods. If saving seed from pods that have some seeds missing, this characteristic can appear in plants grown from seed from those pods. Discard discoloured seeds and seeds much smaller than average. When seeds are dry enough for packaging, keep them in a paper container, inside a sealed container in a cool spot.
If your pumpkin vine has performed well for you this year, it is worth saving seed from one of the best pumpkins as the plants that grow from collected seed will have already adapted to your soil and climate conditions, and pumpkin seed is very easy to save. After harvesting, store the pumpkin for 2 or 3 weeks to make sure the seeds are fully mature. Then cut the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Place the seeds in water and rub them to remove the pulp. Viable seeds usually sink to the bottom of the container. Rinse the seeds well, then spread the seeds on a sheet of paper to dry where mice can’t get to them. After two weeks, place seeds in a labelled jar or envelope and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
To improve the quality of your tomato crop next year, save seed from one or two plants that have cropped well for you this year because these seeds will be from plants that have already adapted to your local growing conditions.
It is easy to save tomato seed from plants that were grown from open-pollinated seed. Hybrid seeds are unreliable because seed from hybrid varieties can be sterile, or revert to the traits of only one of the parent plants. A wide range of open-pollinated seed for tomatoes is available, with varieties to suit all Australian and New Zealand climate zones. You can order them by mail on the internet from companies including Greenpatch Seeds, Green Harvest or Eden Seeds.
To save tomato seed, first select one or two fully ripe tomatoes that you would like to grow next year. For medium to large tomatoes, one fruit is usually enough for the home gardener. For best results, keep them at room temperature until they are just beginning to get soft.
Then cut the tomato into segments and use a teaspoon to transfer the seeds and their surrounding jelly into a clean glass jar. For Italian type tomatoes that don’t contain a lot of jelly, you can add a very small amount of water to keep the seeds moist, but don’t drown them.
Leave the jar undisturbed in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, where you can observe fermentation. Within two or three days a foamy mould will form on the surface of the tomato mixture and it will look as though something has gone horribly wrong. Don’t worry. This is a beneficial fermentation process that kills off several diseases that can affect tomato plants, but the mould can cause premature germination of the seed, if it is left too long.
As soon as the thick foam forms, scoop it off and fill the jar will clean water. Viable seed sinks to the bottom of the jar. Carefully pour off loose jelly floating at the top of the jar, then pour the jar contents into a sieve. Wash the seeds thoroughly in the sieve to remove all the jelly, then tip the seeds onto a sheet of smooth paper. Avoid using paper towels for tomato seeds because they are hairy and difficult to remove from absorbent paper. Allow the seed to dry for thoroughly, indoors. After they have been drying for a few hours it is easy to rub them between your hands to separate any clumps of seed. I usually leave them to dry for a week before packaging in a paper envelope and storing in a biscuit tin in a cool place, until they are needed.