In nature, successful plants produce seeds that are best suited to local soil and climatic conditions. The objective is to emulate nature, to learn and work with natural processes that will result in healthy plants and viable seeds. Therefore regional adaptation is an important factor in raising plants and seeds. As Nancy Bubel puts it in her book, The Seed Starters Handbook, “Adjustment to local weather conditions is achieved by many seed-savers after a few years of selecting the most frost-resistant, early-germinating, or drought-proof seeds. Even without deliberate selection, the simple act of saving seed from thriving plants will often condition the plant strain to the peculiarities of the place where it is regularly replanted.”
Flowering plants are the ones that produce seeds. The male flower part (stamen) produces pollen, a mass of micro spores appearing as a fine dust containing the sperm cells. The pollen must reach and fertilize the female flower part (stigma), which contains the ovary and develops into a seed. The following terms are useful in describing the fertilization process.
- Open-pollinated (non hybrid). Pollination is by natural agents without human intervention.
- Hybrid. Pollination is by human intervention.
- Self-pollinated. Pollination occurs within each flower on the same plant with no pollen transference from one flower to another. Such flowers have both male and female parts and have the mechanism necessary for pollination to occur successfully within the single bloom.
- Cross-pollinated. Pollen is transferred from one flower to the stigma of another, either on the same plant or between different plants. Pollen can be carried by bees, insects, wind or human hands.
Seed-savers have good results if they select vegetables that are self-pollinating.
The beginning saver can try the easy ones first, which are any non hybrid varieties of lettuce, beans, tomatoes and cantaloupes.
Plant reproduction cycles fall into three categories:
- Annuals – flowering and maturing seeds in the same year,
- Perennials – living and bearing seeds year after year,
- Biennials – growing the first year and maturing to produce seeds the second.
The easiest seeds to save are annuals since they produce the seeds the same season they are planted, examples are tomatoes, corn, eggplants. Perennial seeds are also relatively easy to save because the seeds appear each year when the plant has reached maturity Asparagus and rhubarb are good examples.
A biennial vegetable produces only an edible crop the first year not seeds. The plant must be protected over the winter with mulch or floating row cover so that it grows and produces seeds the second year. Biennials that are easy to grow to seed are carrots, cabbage and parsley.