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Let Your Garden Go to Seed!

Before you pull that last bolting lettuce plant from the garden learn about letting it be and saving the seed for next spring's planting!

The warm days of July in the garden mean the tomatoes are finally taking off and there is the promise of the very first zucchini (always the best tasting one!) It also means that some of the spring planted greens such as arugula and lettuce have bolted—they have flowered and are beginning to form seed. Before reaching for the pruners and weeding them out, why not let them be?

Saving seeds from the garden not only insures that you will not need to buy seed for next year, but it is also a wonderful way to perpetuate a crop that has grown accustomed to the particular conditions in your garden. If you choose to do this year after year, you will keep the heritage of that plant alive for future gardening seasons. That’s where heirloom varieties come from; they have been passed on for 80 years or more. If you share your saved seed with other gardeners, you’ll also play a vital role in your local food system.

Seed Saving Tips

Choose heirloom or open-pollinated seeds

Avoid hybrid seed varieties; they often have a designation of F1 or F2 or are simply labeled “hybrid”. These plants will not produce offspring true to the parent and in some cases may have been engineered to be sterile. Heirloom or open-pollinated (OP) seeds can be saved year after year.

Isolate different plant varieties

To insure that individual vegetable varieties stay true to type and do not cross with each other and form a new, unpredictable hybrid, allow only one variety to bloom at a time. For instance, different bean varieties can cross with each other, so grow only one variety at a time. Or, grow bush beans and pole beans. The bush bean harvest will be over early while the pole beans will continue to bear throughout the late summer.

Isolate members of the same plant family

Some vegetables will cross with others within the same family.  For instance certain members of the cabbage family—kale, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts and broccoli—will cross with each other. You could end up with seed for a “broccokale” plant that neither tastes good nor grows well.  In this case, it is best to let only one member of the cabbage family flower at a time. 

Let nature do the work

If you allow plants to go to seed in the garden and leave them in place with ripe seed, some of those seeds will plant themselves without any help from you.  Self-sown plants are often stronger, more vigorous plants as they have determined the best site for germination and growth.  Arugula, parsley, cilantro, corn salad, lettuce, leeks and miner’s lettuce all make great candidates for self-sown food!    

For a thorough introduction to and opportunity for seed exchange with other dedicated heirloom growers see the Seed Savers Exchange website. This non-profit maintains a network of people who collect, conserve, and share heirloom seeds while educating about the importance of preserving genetic and cultural seed diversity.

Contact our Garden Hotline for more information or to get custom answers to your specific questions, (206) 633-0224. Get more information on organic gardening topics in Seattle Tilth's "Maritime NW Garden Guide" or ”Your Farm in the City.” Check out our list of classes.

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