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
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.