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Monday, 20 June 2011

Saving your own vegetable seeds

Gardeners are generally advised against saving their own seed because of the possibility of cross-pollination but I have saved my own seed for many years with no problems encountered. 

The only plants that will not produce viable seeds are hybrids which don't produce an identical plant to the parent.  Not only does the practice of seed saving save you money, especially on expensive rare varieties, its easy and it produces seeds which have been successfully grown in your soil conditions. By saving your own seed and by a process of selection of a particular shape, size or colour you may even develop your own variety. 

Within a seed are the genetic instructions for the plant to grow and develop. Seeds can last a long time but they do deteriorate and proper storing ensures a longer seed viability. The two main factors that can reduce a seeds life expectancy are moisture and warmth. Seeds should always be dried before storage and need to be kept under low temperature, low humidity and in darkness. Exposure to sunlight will shorten the life of your stored seeds, so store in brown envelopes which can be placed in dark coloured jars or, if the environment is low in humidity, use brown envelopes on their own. Always label your seed container, noting the variety, the year and any other useful information. When removing seeds from storage, allow them to stand at room temperature for a few days before sowing. This will allow the seeds to reabsorb some moisture and provide a better chance of germination. 

It is not possible to determine how long seeds in storage will last but the following provides a guide to the storage years for some vegetable seeds:

Parsnip seeds one year; Broad, French and runner beans, peas, onions, leeks and sweetcorn can be stored for two years; Lettuce, oriental brassica, swede, tomato, turnips, basil, coriander, parsley and dill seed can all be stored for three years; Beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrot, cauliflower, chard, kale, kohl rabi and spinach can all be stored for four years; Sweet peppers, chillies, radish and celery both five years; and aubergine, cucumber, marrow, pumpkin, squashes and melon are all six years.

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