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Obtaining your own seeds: tips

10.02.2022  /  Reading time: 10 minutes

A special feature of old varieties is that the plants produce seed-resistant seed. This means that their seeds are suitable for replanting. You can collect the seeds yourself and sow them again the following year. You can also give the seeds away at a seed exchange or in your neighborhood. This article will give you an overview of how to obtain seeds of old vegetable varieties. Propagation is not easy and there are a few things to bear in mind.

This article contains:

  1. Obtain your own seeds: what to keep in mind
  2. Seed propagation from self-pollinators
  3. Obtaining semen from cross-pollinators
  4. Cross-pollinators: tips for seed propagation
  5. General information on seed production
  6. Seed harvesting: obtaining your own seeds
  7. Frequently asked questions about seed production

Quick Overview

Obtaining seeds: tips for propagation

  • Spatial or mechanical isolation to avoid cross-pollination of foreign genes
  • Choose healthy plants with variety-specific characteristics
  • The location should be sunny and warm
  • Choose generous planting distances
  • Sow annual crops as early as possible and biennials as late as possible
  • Check the crops regularly for diseases
  • Shore up plants that shoot
  • Overwinter non-frost-hardy, biennial plants in a frost-free place

Seed harvesting: annual and perennial plants

  • With annual plants, you can collect seeds at the end of the season.
  • Harvesting seeds from biennial plants requires more patience. It is only in the second year that flowering occurs and seed formation begins. In the first year, these plants are neither harvested nor cut off.

Obtain your own seeds: what to keep in mind

Once you have found a variety that you particularly like, you can produce your own seeds for reproduction or exchange. First of all, you should know that propagating varieties is not the same as preserving them. In order to preserve a variety with its unique characteristics, conservation breeding is required. The aim of conservation breeding is to preserve variety-specific characteristics such as shape, color, growth and taste. No genetic material from other varieties may be crossed in. Such conservation breeding is often not feasible in an allotment garden because it requires large stocks (500 to 1000 plants) and a great deal of expertise. Otherwise, genetic erosion or inbreeding can occur.

Tomato blossoms
Find out in advance whether you are dealing with a cross-pollinator or self-pollinator. Picture by Franz W. on Pixabay.

Find out about the types of vegetables

Nevertheless, you can try your hand at growing your own seeds of your favorite plants. You can easily do this a few times. After a few years, however, you should obtain new seeds from a conservation initiative in order to obtain true-to-type seeds again. You can read about the conservation initiatives for old varieties and more about old varieties here.

Overall, it is incredibly important that you inform yourself well in advance about which plant you are dealing with and what there is to consider for each crop! Every crop actually has its own special features when it comes to cultivation and harvesting. To ensure that everything runs smoothly, it is worth investing the time in advance. First of all, it is important that you are aware of how your plant is pollinated. Is it a cross-pollinator or a self-pollinator? If it is a cross-pollinator, is it pollinated by the wind or by insects?

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Seed propagation from self-pollinators

Self-pollinating plants such as tomatoes, beans, peas or lettuce do not need foreign pollen, but fertilization from other plants of the same species is possible. By isolating plants of the same species, cross-pollination of foreign genetic material can be prevented. Propagating self-pollinated plants in private gardens is relatively simple.

Obtaining semen from cross-pollinators

In this case, the plant is dependent on the pollen of another plant for fertilization. The pollen is carried to the flower either by the wind or by pollinating insects, which makes cross-pollination much more likely. If you have several plants of the same species in your garden, the individual varieties should be isolated with a crop protection net. However, the problem here is that insects are also kept away for pollination. To ensure pollination, you should therefore place pollinating insects under the netting. In addition, cross-pollinators are more susceptible to inbreeding effects. Therefore, a somewhat larger population of at least 50 plants is necessary to avoid this. For these reasons, the propagation of cross-pollinators is somewhat more difficult and therefore less suitable for maintenance in the hobby garden.

Zucchini blossom
The zucchini is a cross-pollinator and is therefore dependent on insects. To prevent cross-pollination of foreign genes, you can install a crop protection net. Picture: Nowaja on Pixabay.

Cross-pollinators: tips for seed propagation

To prevent cross-pollination with other varieties of the same species, there are a few measures that will help you:

Spatial isolation: ensure sufficient distance

Choose a sufficiently large planting distance so that no pollen exchange can occur. You must choose a sufficient distance from all varieties of the same species. Swiss chard, for example, can also be fertilized by beet, as both belong to the Beta vulgaris species. Find out in advance which plants belong to the same species to prevent cross-pollination. The type of pollination plays an important role in the choice of plant spacing. Wind-pollinated species (at least 300 m) require the greatest plant spacing, followed by insect-pollinated species (100 to 150 m) and finally self-pollinated species (crop-specific row spacing).

Mechanical insulation with nets

If you do not have enough space to realize the planting distances, there is still the possibility of mechanical isolation of a culture with isolation tunnels. As already mentioned, you have to place pollinating insects under the culture net for cross-pollinators. Blowflies(Calliphora ssp. for carrots, cabbage and onions), solitary bees(Osmia rufa for composite flowers and cabbage) or bumblebees(Bombus terrestris for cucumbers, cabbage and carrots) are suitable for this. If there are only a few specimens, you can of course also pollinate the plants by hand with a small brush.

General information on seed production

Bean seeds
Most pulses are harvested when fully ripe. The seeds are ready to germinate when the pod has completely dried out brown. Image: natureconcept on Pixabay.

Here you will find general tips on how to successfully grow your own seeds:

  • Selection of seed bearers: Select healthy, strong plants with typical varietal characteristics.
  • Location: Choose a sunny and warm spot so that the seeds can fully ripen.
  • Sowing date: Sow annual crops as early as possible so that the seeds can fully ripen; sow biennial crops later so that they do not become overgrown (exception: Chinese cabbage must be sown earlier).
  • Planting distances: Choose generous spacing so that the seed carriers have room to develop. This also reduces the risk of fungal disease, which would contaminate the seed.
  • Nutrient supply: An optimum supply of nutrients should be ensured, especially during seed development.
  • Watering: Water seed-bearing plants from below.
  • Keeping crops healthy: Check regularly for diseases and remove infected plants immediately and completely. Fungal diseases in particular are a problem in seed production; preventative measures such as a well-ventilated crop and, in the event of an infestation, neem oil, for example, can help.
  • Support: Some plants start to shoot upwards during flowering. In this case, you should attach a support to ensure that the plant does not topple over. The seed bearer should never lie on the ground. This would be a risk for fungal diseases.
  • Overwintering biennial plants: A frost-free place with temperatures between 1 and 5 °C is ideal for this, e.g. in the cellar. Before storing, select the best plants for the following year. Check your plants regularly to detect rot or pest infestation in good time.

Seed harvesting: obtaining your own seeds

When harvesting seeds, the right time is of the essence. If you harvest too early, the seeds are not yet fully ripe and may not be able to germinate. If, on the other hand, you are too late, the plant may have already sprouted its seeds and you will go home empty-handed. You need a little sensitivity to pick the right moment. The seed heads ripen on the plant until after flowering. You need to know whether your chosen plant is an annual or a biennial. Depending on whether it flowers in the first or second year. The seeds are harvested accordingly.

Flowering leek
Leeks form this beautiful umbel of white-pink flowers in their second year. Picture: zimt2003 on Pixabay.

  • You can harvest seeds from annual plants at the end of the season. There are species that are harvested when the fruit is ready to eat. This is the case with tomatoes and peppers, for example: The vegetables and seeds are harvested at the same time. After eating, you clean the seeds from the pulp and leave them to dry. Other vegetables are usually harvested unripe and are no longer edible when the seeds are ripe, e.g. cucumbers or zucchinis. In this case, you have to do without the crop in order to be able to harvest the seeds. The seed head or fruit must ripen completely on the plant until it has turned brown and dried out. Only then is the seed ready to germinate. Find out in advance what the situation is with the plant you want to propagate.
  • Harvesting seeds from biennial plants is a little more complicated, as these plants only flower and bear fruit in their second year. Some frost-hardy species such as kale, leeks or parsnips can overwinter in the field. Other frost-sensitive species must be dug up and moved to a frost-free place to overwinter. In spring, plant them back in the bed. In both cases, the plants are not harvested or cut off in the first year so that they start to flower in the second year.

We wish you lots of fun and success with your seed production. Feel free to share your experiences of propagating old varieties with us and the Alphabeet community! If you have any questions or comments on this topic, please write to us at [email protected].

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Marie studied agricultural science at the University of Hohenheim. Her main focus is on ecological agriculture and permaculture. She writes articles for Fryd to educate people about ecological interrelationships and alternatives to current land use. Our current economic systems, especially in agriculture, have numerous negative effects on nature and destabilize our ecosystems. We need a great diversity in our gardens and beds again to counteract the extinction of species. Every gardener can contribute to creating and maintaining habitats and food for a wide variety of creatures. With her articles, she would like to pass on her experience in dealing with natural systems and give people the opportunity to contribute to a stable ecosystem and thus also to securing our livelihood.

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Seed-solid seeds come from plants whose seeds can be reproduced. You can obtain seeds from these plants yourself and grow them again the following year.

You can obtain your own seeds from old and seed-resistant varieties. With F1 hybrids, it is not worthwhile as the seeds often no longer bear fruit. Pay attention to variety-specific characteristics and avoid cross-pollination.

Through spatial or mechanical isolation, e.g. the use of crop protection nets to keep out foreign genetic material.

Yes, seeds obtained can be exchanged or given away at seed swaps or locally in the neighborhood.

Timing is crucial: seeds harvested too early may not germinate, those harvested too late may already be lost. The maturity of the seeds varies depending on the plant species and variety.

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