San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Seed Saving a Rewarding Endeavor

Every time we save seeds from the plants we grow, we carry on an ancient tradition that connects us to nature’s circle of life. The conservation of seeds also has an ecological aspect, as it helps to preserve the wonderful species of plants that sustain us on the planet.

Seed saving can be the ultimate game for the tropical gardener. It’s a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor, but requires patience and a keen watch on your plants to be successful. You can save seeds from many vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers grown at home. The following information will help you to perfect the art of seed saving.

Standard seed varieties or heirloom seeds, as they are often called, are the best for seed saving. These are nonhybrid seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation because they are hardy and genetically stable.

Seeds collected from hybrid plants, however, won’t produce the same plants in the next generation. That’s because they revert back to their crossed parents. With hybrid seeds you have to buy new seeds each year, whereas with heirloom seeds you can save your own seeds year after year.

Annual plants that are easy to reproduce from seed include corn, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, peanuts, grains, squash, cucumbers and melons, as well as many herbs and flowers.

Perennial plants that can be reproduced from seeds include fruit trees (except for mangos, avocados and citrus, which are best when grafted), native rain-forest trees, ornamental shrubs and vines.

Pollination is another factor, determining how true to seed your plants will be in the next generation. Because of their flower structure, certain plants, especially squashes, melons and corn, are open-pollinated, generally cross-pollinated by bees that travel from one plant to the next. Seeds from these types of plants are not always true strains of the parent and may show considerable variation.

If you’re trying to maintain specific traits of open-pollinated plants, grow only one variety at a time to get a pure strain. Plants with self-pollinating flowers, however,maintain their particular traits in the next generation. Lettuces, tomatoes, beans and peanuts are good examples.

Biennial plants, such as carrots, beets, cabbage and onions, require freezing temperatures to stimulate their biological clocks to trigger seed production. Because of this phenomenon, these types of plants are difficult to reproduce by seed in the tropics.

When you collect seeds, keep the following points in mind. Select one or two of the best plants early in their development for the purpose of collecting seeds. It’s often useful to mark these plants with a stake, so they are not harvested or disturbed during their growth. Fertilize and water them well, just like the other plants.

Collect seed capsules when they are mature and dry. Separate and clean the seeds well, and then dry them for several days at a temperature no more than 50 degrees Celsius. Store your seeds in airtight containers, preferably in the refrigerator. Corn and other grain seeds can be frozen in airtight containers for 48 hours to eliminate insect eggs and larva.

I hope you’ll try your hand at seed saving. You’ll find December in Costa Rica an ideal time to start a garden – and a chance to go full circle with nature.


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