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Volume 29 Issue 6
March/April 2024

My Thoughts are Turning to Gardening
Featuring the Benefits of Interplanting

Planning Your Open-Pollinated Garden For Seed Saving, Part 2

Jin Shin Therapy
“A Simple Art for Complicated Times”

Preparing for Surgery

Transforming Loss into Legacy: Honouring Loved Ones and Finding Purpose

From Participant to Facilitator: Embracing Holistic Healing Retreats

The Culinary Pharmacy: Intuitive Eating, Ancestral Healing, and Your Personal Nutrition Plan by Lisa Masé

An Easter Fantasy Story


Planning Your Open-Pollinated Garden For Seed Saving, Part 2
Shannon Hintonby Shanon Hilton

In Part 1, we talked about why we want to choose open-pollinated varieties when saving seed. In Part 2, we are going to discuss the fun part—planning for seed saving!
The first consideration is space. How much space do you have? Some plants don’t change in size when saving seed from them, but some do. Growing radishes for the root and saving seed from radishes means growing two very different sized plants. When plants go to seed, many get much bigger than we expect (3–4x the size or more!), and so we need to factor that in when planning. 

Another factor is planting enough plants to maintain genetic diversity. This number is going to depend on the plant itself, but for home-scale seed saving, six plants are considered to be your minimum, with 20 being more ideal. Obviously, that doesn’t always work out. And sometimes you won’t notice a difference, but over time, genetic diversity may gradually decline. Also, consider whether you can eat the plant and save seed, or are these things mutually exclusive? If the latter, plan for more plants and more space to accommodate that need.

The next consideration is whether the plant is inbreeding or outbreeding. Inbreeding here means that the plant will self-pollinate and we can generally rely on the seed producing true to the parent without any help. Plants in this category include tomatoes, beans, peas, lettuce, and flax. If you are new to seed saving, this is a good place to start. Outbreeding means cross pollination—brassicas, squash, corn, peppers, carrots, onions, beets/chard, and that means knowing the botanical names and planning for isolation.

Botanical names help us to know what species we are planting, and whether it will cross pollinate with something else. If the genus and the species are the same, they will cross pollinate. For example, pumpkins and zucchini both belong to Curcubita pepo and will readily cross pollinate with each other. This might turn out to be a fun experiment when you get a pumpkini, but if you want to bake a pumpkin pie and want true to type, a plan is a must. Beets and chard will all cross pollinate with each other and do so primarily through wind pollination. Cabbage, broccoli, and kale, etc. will also all cross pollinate, but do so primarily via insect pollination.

When choosing to grow more than one of the same species, we need to isolate—and that can be done in a few ways: we can isolate by time, by distance, or through a physical means. By time means growing plants with different maturity dates so that the cross-pollination windows will not overlap. By distance, means we need a minimum of 180 meters to 3/4 of a kilometre of separation. This is not practical for most, so that is where physical isolation can come into play. Bags, or cages, protect the flower from an unwanted source of pollen. Perhaps it means alternating with cages: one day on, one day off. It could also mean hand pollinating and then taping a flower shut to prevent unwanted pollinators.

Other physical strategies include using physical barriers—planting in the front and back of the house, or having some kind of structure between varieties. Perhaps planting something tall to act as a physical barrier to catch wind pollen, or break up the flight path of a pollinator—or planting different flowering varieties in between groups, to act as a “pollen cleanse.” One last option is to grow in a large group and harvest from the middle, knowing the sides are more likely to be exposed to wind or cross pollination, whereas the seeds in the middle will be more pure.

Lastly, consider whether what you want to save seed from does so in its first year (annual), or second year (biennial). Carrots, parsnips, beets, chard, celery, onions, leeks, and all of the brassicas are all second-year seed producers. There are a few exceptions, but in our climate, it may mean storing these plants out of the ground over winter and replanting them in spring.

If all of this seems overwhelming, remember: you do not need to save every seed variety every year. Seeds store very well if kept cool and dry. The general guideline is 3–5 years, but I have had seeds germinate and do well after being stored for much longer than that. Think about how many plants you need to grow to allow for a good harvest multiple years over, as well as for seed. Stagger what you grow: save seed from chard one year, and from beets the next. Or, get together with a family member, or friend, and split up the varieties and then share the seeds.

Hopefully, this gives you enough information to get started on your seed saving journey, as you begin to plan for the 2024 growing season! Happy gardening.

Shanon Hilton owns and operates 4 Acre Farm with her family in Southern Saskatchewan—an artisan seed and botanical product business. She is a grower, wildcrafter, seed saver, plant enthusiast, and herbalist. You can find her at www.4acrefarm.ca or on instagram @4acrefarmca. Also, see the display ad on page 12 of the 29.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.


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