Seed Growing


Seed growing is not too complicated as long as you follow certain hard-and-fast rules and you read and study about the variety you are growing.

You need to be aware of how your plant variety pollinates, the minimal distance needed between different varieties to prevent cross breeding contamination and knowledge of the minimal population size you need to ensure genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding problems. seed growing,seed saving

Yes, it sounds like a lot to manage but do not worry. Pay attention to detail and you will succeed.

Plants propogate in 1 of 3 basic ways. There are the self-pollinators like lettuce, tomatoes and beans which pollinate themselves.

Self-pollinators are adapted to using their own pollen so inbreeding is not a concern because all undesirable recessive genes have already been eliminated from the gene pool.

Seed growing can be done with a minimum of 25 to 50 plants to provide an adequate gene pool and cross-breeding between different varieties is not too much of an issue.

Although cross-breeding can occur so different varieties should still be separated by about 50 feet to prevent this from happening.

The next means of propogation are the 'outcrossers' which have evolved to avoid self-pollination through several different means of pollination such as wind, insects, separate male/female flowers or separate male/female plants to name a few.

The Square Tomato

Is this an urban legend? Not quite... has the story: in 1950's California a tomato crop was threatened due to a lack of pickers.

In response, UC (University of California) developed a mechanical tomato harvester but there was a problem...

It crushed tomatoes.

UC set about developing a tomato that could withstand such harvesting, dubbed 'the square tomato' probably because it was developed to accomodate the harvester rather than the harvester changing to accomodate the tomato.

This tomato was to have an extremely thick skin so it would survive harvesting and bruising during transport.

Legend has it that a researcher smashed tomatoes on the road until he found a rather thick-skinned variety. This was planted and the same test was performed until the 'square tomato' hybrid came into being.

This is the tomato we now buy in the grocery store.

Inbreeding can be a problem with these types of plants.

To prevent cross-breeding contamination, different varieties need to be separated by at least one quarter of a mile (0.4 kilometer) and to preserve genetic diversity at least 100 plants should be grown.

If different varieties cannot be isolated by distance, bags or fine-mesh 'cages' can be placed over flower heads to avoid pollination. They must be manually pollinated by the grower.

A third way to propogate plants is by 'clonal reproduction' or taking cuttings and rooting them. This is an effective way to make identical copies of a plant and avoid cross-pollination but disease 'build up' will eventually force the grower to start with new base plants to clone.

When seed growing it is important to follow the guidelines of minimum isolation distance between varieties and always be on the lookout for inbreeding. Growing at least the minimal suggested population size for your type of plant is also important.

Another factor to consider is plant disease and pest. Heirlooms grown for seed are usually allowed to mature longer than plants grown for vegetable so there is greater risk of disease and pest exposure. Always check for infestations...

As you grow your seed producing plants you may find that some are just not meeting a minimum standard. Sickly plants, sports (those with undesirable chance characteristics) or any plant not meeting your selection criteria need to be taken out of the 'gene pool' - in other words, pulled and destroyed.

For a much more in-depth discussion of seed growing I would suggest reading, "The Wisdom of Plant Heritage: Organic Seed Production and Saving" written by Bryan Connolly.


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