Plants which have grown well, producing abundant leaves over a long time – your best performers – are prime ones to save seeds from.
If you let some go to seed – there are lots of benefits:
- bees and other beneficial insects love the nectar and pollen – and we love their presence for all the good work they do in our garden!
- The scent of nectar is like honey drifting around the garden – delightful!
- You have seed adapted to your own unique garden so next year’s crop can be even better adapted and productive
When the best performers grow a flower stalk [‘bolt’ to seed] instead of growing lush leaves, give them a stake for support.
Many people pull them out now because these bolting plants look untidy in their garden and no longer provide the leaves they want to eat. A stake helps limit the untidy nature of the seeding plants. If you look forward to the benefits of your own seed for next year then it’s easier to over-look the untidy state for this short time.
Could little lettuces, parsley, endive or silver-beet plants really need a stake?
They shoot up and up and up – as tall as me. And then blow over in strong winds; onto any other plants nearby. Not so good. Strong stakes support them and give an attachment point to confine their expansive spreading ways!
How do we choose which plants to allow to seed and which not?
We use a number of factors for leafy greens:
- amount of leaf production – big, lush, abundant leaves
- longest season producing lush leaves before they get tough/small/bitter
- taste and tenderness
- disease/pest resistance [love the plants which are strong and healthy so low maintenance for disease management – think molds, rusts, snails, slugs, chewing insects, sucking insects, etc]
The longer the plants keep producing leaves instead of seeds, the better for us! These are plants we stake to supply seeds for future crops. They can grow on and produce more leaves and then, later, seeds. This way we select for plants which last longer giving the parts we like to eat – leaves. And we get great seed quality for next year’s crop.
If we left the first plants to shoot up and seed, we are selecting for a shorter season of the leaves we like – hmmm.
We pick the stalks out from the plants which first shoot up – and eat the leaves, then chop the plant down to ground level so it is not contributing pollen to the next generation in our garden.
Each garden is a unique little environment of its own – no two are the same.
We can take useful guidance from other gardens, yet the only way to find what works for us is by trying it in our own garden.
This also means that plants which grow wonderfully in our garden are adapted to our garden. They won’t necessarily do well in other gardens with different soil type, winds, rainfall, aspect [there’s a huge difference between north-facing and south-facing slopes]
Saving your own high-quality seed gives you a huge advantage next season in the garden which grew the seed!
So the take-away message:
Select for the qualities you want in your crops.
- Size of the part you eat
- Vibrancy and disease-resistance of the whole plant
- Length of season of the part you like to eat
- Early/mid/late season production which avoid pests/diseases [and provide special treats at the start of the season – gee they taste lovely after not having the crop for some months]
- And any other qualities important to you.
Consider the whole life-cycle when you are choosing which plants to let flower and seed.
Saving seeds is a wonderful adventure where we can experiment – and you never know when you will get wonderful types just right for you and your garden.
A note about cross-pollination:
Pollen of one variety can cross-pollinate other similar types so it’s well worth finding which you need to be careful with.
Silver-beet, also called chard [Beta vulgaris], will cross-pollinate with beetroot/sugar-beets, etc so we make sure all beetroot is harvested before it produces a flowering stalk, and allow the silver-beet [well, red-stemmed beet this year] to flower and seed.
Lettuce [Lactuca sativa] is pretty well self-pollinating so we leave a number of varieties to seed at the same time with good success. [For an interesting experiment about creating new varieties that I read, here’s the link]
Endive [Cichorium endivia] varieties can cross-pollinate so we have one only flowering at a time [Tres Fine Maraichere is a favorite]
Parsley [Petroselinum crispum] can cause problems. We try to keep with just one variety, yet somehow the flat-leaf parsley often appears amidst the curled-leaf variety. We remove these plants when we notice them [often called ‘roguing’ – check it out here] so there is a better chance we get the variety we want next year.
Orach [Atriplex hortensis] – we grow just one variety.
Magenta Spreen [Chenopodium giganteum] We grow Magenta Spreen in one area where it self-seeds happily.
Amaranth – there are lots of species and varieties of Amaranth so we take some care with them. We are trying Mekong Red [Amaranthus tricolor] this year.
Have a great time saving your very own seeds.
Now, other useful info for planting seeds to produce great crops:
Best phase of the moon for lush leafy greens is the week after the new moon on Saturday 28th January 2017.
Best days this are Monday 30th, Tuesday 31st January, morning of Wednesday 1st February and Friday 3rd February 2017
May you and your garden flourish!