Dave Hamilton – guest column in Herald Express

Dave Hamilton – author of Grow Your Food for Free – well, almost – appeared as a guest columnist in Herald Express. Below is the article.Saving seeds to produce new life remains a very captivating subject. I became fascinated by the way things grow at a very young age. Like many others, it began with a school experiment growing a bean seed in a jar.

I watched with wonder as the leaves unfolded and the root began to send out tiny hairs in search of water and nutrients. This had me hooked and I started to look for seeds everywhere.

I soon found my next seeds, encases in a papery shell at the bottom of my garden. I now know these paper cases held the seed of the common honesty plant but back then, as my young hands roughly covered them in soil, I had no idea what it was and what would come of the seed.

As children do, I soon forgot about my first step into horticulture and got on with the business of building a base for my Action Man. It wasn’t until I found more papery cases (which seemed like an eternity later) in the spot I had sowed the seeds I realised I had created this new life.

Even at that age, I was captivated.

It took a while for me to rekindle this love of plants but when I did, saving seeds to produce new life still remained a very captivating subject. Saving your own seed is an age-old practice and has many advantages to buying seed in addition to the obvious financial benefits.  Saved seed is perfectly adapted to the environment the parent plants came from.

Bought seed, on the other hand, can come from anywhere in the country, if not the world, and will be adapted to its own particular environment.  In other words, Italian seeds may favour better in Naples than they would in Newton Abbot. Only select seed from healthy, strong looking plants. Avoid any that are diseased. Flavour, shape, flower colour and high yields are all traits you can select and improve on year after year.

In time you can create your own variety perfectly adapted to your own tastes and your own environment.  In addition to making your own varieties, you could also preserve heritage vegetables that might be on the brink of extinction. Garden Organic (Formally Henry Double Day Research Association — HDRA) runs a heritage seed library and a choice of six rare or unusual varieties are offered to members. Members also are given the chance to become a seed guardian who takes on the extra responsibility of growing seed for the organisation.

When grown from seed, plants are products of their two parents just as much we are. So, just as you might have your father’s eye colour and your mother’s hair, plants too will have characteristics of each their parents. The parent plants of F1s are chosen to produce a known offspring with desired traits such as resistance to disease, uniformly shaped roots or fruit or resistance to bolting.

In other words, plant breeders know that they have the botanical version of Bill with brown eyes and Betty with brown hair will produce Bobby with brown hair and brown eyes. However, the resulting seeds of F1s are not so predictable and can be sterile, produce small yields or simply won’t grow true to form. F1 seeds are, therefore, not suitable for seed saving and open pollinated varieties should instead be chosen.

  • Only take seed from healthy, virus free plants.
  • Select from high yielding plants
  • Avoid cross pollination by covering the flower and hand pollinating (i.e. pumpkins) or growing similar plants around six to 12ft away from each other (i.e. beans)
  • Select seed for good flavour
  • Don’t save seed from F1 hybrids
  • Make sure seeds are dry before storing
  • Clearly label seeds — it’s easy to forget what you’ve saved!
  • Save more than you think you need as seeds can become less viable after storage.
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