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SSNO Part 2: Which Plants Are Best for Seed Saving?

This is part 2 of the Seed Saving Nerd Out, SSNO for short.  Part 1 last week was a long description of plant reproduction to help you understand which plants you should and shouldn't save seed from.  This week is similar information, organized in a chart for easy reference.

saving seed from heirloom tomatoesHeirloom tomatoes are one of the easiest and most reliable veggies to save seed from.  See the chart below for why. 

Should you save seed from a particular plant?

I'm all for experimenting.  I love to root an avocado pit, or collect seeds from unknown varieties just to see what happens, BUT . . .

If you want reliable crops year after year, follow the chart below to make sure the plants and seed you invest with your time and energy produce what you expect.

(Scroll down for detailed definitions of each category in the chart.)

should you save seed chart

Self-Pollinating

Any plant whose flowers generally pollinate themselves before opening.  Common examples in the veggie garden:

  • Tomatoes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Eggplant

Wind-Pollinated

Any plant that requires wind to pollinate.  Edible examples are:

  • Corn (and all other cereal grains like wheat, oats and barley)
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Spinach

Insect-Pollinated

These plants either require insects flying between flowers to set seed/fruit or are a combination of self-pollinating and insect-pollinated.  For seed-saving purposes, you should assume that insects will cross-fertilize (creating impure seed) unless isolated.  Some examples that are likely in your garden:

  • Squashes
  • Melons
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Apples and Pears
  • Almonds

 

The next three categories refer to how the parent plant came to be.  (Lots more detail in last week's post.)

Open-Pollinated

These are plants that breed true from seed, meaning that seed saved from an open pollinated variety will reliably produce offspring extremely similar to their parents.  If you save seed from an open-pollinated tomato, next year's crop will be the same as this year's.

This category includes all heirlooms grown from seed (though not grafted heirloom fruit trees -- see below).  All seed packets will say if a variety is open pollinated or not, and a quick internet search for the variety name will also tell you.

Because we feel it's extremely important to be able to save seed, we only sell open-pollinated varieties.

Hybrid, or F1 Hybrid, or simply F1

Hybrids are like mules:  A cross between 2 different parents (a donkey and a horse, in the case of the mule) creates desirable offspring that either can't reproduce, or reproduces poorly.  "Hybrid vigor" is a real phenomenon, and one of the reasons that so many popular veggies are hybrids.  But saving seed from hybrids is always disappointing because next year's crop will be nothing like this year's.

Seed packets will always be labeled to let you know if seed is hybrid or not, and if you know the variety name, it's easy to look up.

There is nothing dangerous or controversial about hybrids, except that you have to buy new seed every year, and are dependent on the seed company.

Grafting / Cloning

All fruit trees are clones, where any named variety is genetically identical to all other trees with the same name.  While most require insects to pollinate them and produce fruit, the seeds that result will give you quite different fruit from the parents.  It's best not to save seed from grafted trees.

The cannabis industry also relies heavily on named clones.  Most dispensaries have a plant section, where all the plants were grown as clones from cuttings from a mother plant rather than seed.  And because cannabis plants are either male or female, and only the females produce the crop of flowers, all the cloned seedlings are female too, and won't produce seed unless grown alongside a male plant.  (I'm not a cannabis grower, btw, but I find the botany fascinating.)

Many popular herbs are also generally grown as clones from cuttings, lavender and peppermint being the most common.  Both will produce seed, and the offspring can be quite lovely, but they will be different from their parents.  I have lots of self-seeded lavender in my garden, and I quite like how each one is different, but that might not be what you're after.  Again, a quick internet search will tell you if your variety is a clone, or grown from seed.  If in doubt, you can always regenerate your herbs from cuttings.


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