Propagating your own plants is one of the most satisfying things you can do as a gardener. Creating new plants from the stock that you have in your garden has some real advantages.
Firstly, you can save money because if you’re getting your plants from your garden, they’re now free, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re creating your own plants. But not only that, when you propagate from your garden – whether taking cuttings or runners or layering or saving your own seeds – those plants would have started to acclimatize to your microclimate and therefore should be stronger, healthier, more robust plants.
And to save your own seeds you don’t need many tools. You need pencil or pen and some paper envelopes or paper bags and that’s it! And the only other thing you need is a little bit of patience. You can save seeds all year round.
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In my video about seed saving all year round Huw Richards, author of Veg in One Bed and Grow Food for Free, joined me to talk about how he saves seeds. Here’s the video transcript of his thoughts on seed saving.
‘Hey Liz, thank you very much for having me on. I’m going to start with the worst example to begin with, just to get it out of their way. And this is Swiss chard, I grew Bright Lights here last year, so this is a second year and all of them were actually looking pretty healthy like these two and then we got that frost earlier on in May and you can see the rest of these, for example, this one here has been hit really hard by frost and they’re looking a little sad so I’m hoping that they will pull through and I’m letting these bolt. Now the thing that I love about Swiss chard, just a little note, is even if it bolts these are still perfectly edible, unlike when lettuce bolts – it turns bitter – it doesn’t happen with Swiss chard. So I’m letting these grow ,they’ll grow into really tall flying stems, perhaps around, I don’t know six foot tall, you’ll see some footage of a tour that I did last year at the moment, where you can see an example. Let them dry and then I’m going to save them. So just make sure if you are trying to save seed that you have at least four, six, preferably more plants that are all going to seed because this means they can cross pollinate with each other and it’s really important to have that pollination rather than saving seeds just from one. I’m going to show you another example which is swede.
I’ve only got four swede plants and that’s mainly because I got a bit hungry over winter, but these are now running to seed. So we planted these or sown them around May last year, May 2019, it’s now May 2020 you can see what stage they are at. The thing about swede is that you have these flower tops, which are edible and really delicious, and then you let them flower – the pollinators absolutely love it. Now swede is a brassica and the thing about brassicas when it comes to seed saving, is that it’s very difficult because they very easily cross pollinate with other brassicas. For example, swede can cross pollinate with kale etc., but because I have no other brassicas pollinating at the moment I’m letting these and these are going to pod up and I’m going to, kind of, just let them again dry on the plant, take them off and stick them in a bag and I’m just really excited to see how this goes and I’ve never saved swede seeds before – bit of a tongue twister there, and yeah it will be cool to see what happens.
So this is a different example of seed saving where I haven’t actually stored the seeds in envelopes indoors. The seeds have been storing in the ground over winter. This time last year I was growing lettuce, I then let it seed in summer. I did collect some of the seeds, but I let the rest of them fall on the ground and then in March I started to see little lettuce begin to appear and we’ve already taken quite a nice harvest today. And yeah, it’s just a prime example of sometimes just letting things go to seed and not doing anything, just sitting back and seeing what happens. You can get some amazing results.’
I still consider myself to be quite new to seed saving and I started with the basics and that was with legumes. For example these runner beans, I’ve got scarlet runner beans here, and also with peas. In fact peas are the easiest, you just save them after they’ve dried at the end of the year and grow them the following year. The same is with runner beans, I’m going to let these grow and I’m trying to grow extra runner beans this year, just so I can save a lot more seeds and also use those in seed swaps as well, to perhaps swap with seed varieties that I can’t quite save seed from. And the plan is I’m keeping these runner beans away from the other climbing beans and runner beans, because even though they’re very unlikely to cross-pollinate because they’re self-pollinating – this is the same with peas – just to reduce any likelihood of adventurous bees going between the flowers I’m just keeping them around 10 metres away from the rest.
When it comes to seed saving something you’ve got to do is, you want to pick seeds or you want to save seeds from the plants that show the most vigour and the most health because if you choose the best examples, chances are the seeds are going to perform the best. If you save seeds from just weak plants or plants that have bolted prematurely, like lettuce, chances are they’re not going to perform as well as you’d expect, when it comes to sowing those seeds the following years.’