Friday, April 20, 2018

Hard Seed Saving

Whenever there is a seed saving class, you see seeds divided into easy, moderately hard and hard - or some variation of that.  Easy seeds are defined with the least amount of brain power and the least effort - presumably 'hard' is the opposite of that.

That aint necessarily so.

Oftentimes the difference between easy and hard is simply the willingness to observe what's happening in your garden and use that knowledge to your advantage.  In small scale seed saving, there is a minimum of tools required (which I feel is a flaw, being an avid tool collector myself) and the techniques are fairly straight forward.  Corn is not, of itself that hard to save.  But our location, throughout Los Angeles makes it hard to save; someone somewhere has corn flowering the same time yours is!  The only way to save it without doubt is to pollinate it by hand.  I intend to cover that in the near future, so stay tuned!

Corn is wind pollinated - and so it pollinates nothing if no wind blows the pollen (from the boy flowers - the tassels) to the silks (aka the girl flowers) of other corn plants. The descendents of the European invaders are very uptight about keeping plants "pure."  That's what makes corn maddening to us.  It's hard to get that wind to blow only where you want it! 

There are ways to control corn pollen and get plants pollinated with only the genes you want.  This article is not about that.

The peoples who took corn from a sad little grass plant into the culinary powerhouse it s today, had a very different view of plants and plant breeding.  Isolating a given set of genetics was the European design, but the breeders of corn took a different approach from ancient times to present day, they allowed the corn to freely cross - and they saved corn from all ears, not just the big ones.  The result is that there are hundreds of different corn varieties available for a huge  variety of different ways to cook and eat it! 

Corn unshelled on the right, bowl of Red Bread seed center and the
empty cobs, already shelled on the left.
I was gifted with some ears of Mohawk Red Bread Corn from Rowan White a few years back.  I grew it out, got a nice harvest and hung onto the seed, stored it somewhat indifferently until last month when I was asked if I had any corn for a ceremony and I offered up the Mohawk Red Bread. 

It was making a whole circle in may ways.  The corn was now going back to Mohawk country to help Eliot Cowan, author of "Plant Spirit Medicine"do a ceremony. The woman who asked for the corn seed had met Eliot through his book, which was stocked in that book store because I asked for them to stock it as it was supplementary reading for my Botany class.  Now the lot of us had come together for a ceremony that brought this wonderful corn out of California back to upper New York state.

Pulling the corn seeds out of storage was a mystical experience.  The seed was no longer fresh, so my instructions were to plant more seeds than he needed just to ensure a good stand of seed.

I didn't have time to give these seeds a "germ test" (see my other article, Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister? for some back ground on this). 

I brought out my corn sheller and tried my best to NOT just take the good looking kernels from good looking cobs.  I tried to emulate the corn growers and I tried to shut my internal neediness for a stab at perfection.  

A corn sheller.  This one is sized for popcorn, but it
was the right size for my Red Bread Corn too!
These seeds were put into a quart glass canning jar to sit in the freezer for three days.  At that time, they'll be reintroduced to the ambient temperature and I will get a germ test done.  Here's hoping I didn't give Eliot bad seeds!  


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister?

I was given a big bag of fava bean seed as the Seed Library of Los Angeles was clearing out some old seeds lately. The bag was labeled "Fava Beans, 2010"  I'm thinking "What is the longevity of fava beans anyway?" Most seeds figure to be close to dust over seven years (tomatoes being the common exception), but every so often, something was saved right and conditions all along favored longer life and the seeds will still sprout. I had no idea about fava bean seed, although, larger seeds seem to take longer to die than itty bitty ones (tomatoes definitely are the outliers!) 

Some quick research, I found a UC Davis article that said "When stored under favorable conditions, most bean seeds have a life expectancy of 3 years."  

It's hard to see, but this bag of fave bean seed is labeled 2010.
Good? Bad?
What to do?  

Gosh. At 8 years, 2010 to 2018 seems like a long shot! But here's a whole bag of the stuff, I would really hate to throw it away. I don't know any magic, but sometimes a 'germination test' feels like magic.

What Is a Germ Test And How Do You Do It?

Most seed savers abbreviate 'germination' into the monosyllable 'germ' and so you hear us talking about 'germ tests' not germination tests. Too much work to say all that! 

You will need a soft cloth or a paper towel. A water proof container - most folks use plastic zip lock bags. For this one, I used a bag that a loaf of bread came in and when I'm done, I'll wash it and use it again!

Lastly, of course, you'll need some seeds and some water.

Fava bean seeds are big and bulky. They are not the most convenient species to take a germ test. First time out, you might want to do corn, peas, regular beans - something substantial but not as bulky as a fava bean. 

The number of seeds you will use for a germ test will depend on how many seeds you have and how much mental energy you want to spend. Educators usually talk in terms of 100 seeds. The beauty of this is that when you're done, simple count up the number that sprouted and you have the real percentage of viable seeds. And that works if you dealing in farm size quantities, but if you have only 100 seeds to start with, you'll be using the germ test seeds to plant! It takes a good deal of patience to plant already sprouted seeds. 
The actual appearance of my finished germ test.
Five beans per row, four rows - 20 seeds total.

So here we are.  I only used four rows of five beans and even that was hard to keep in the paper towel roll!  That's twenty seeds, so to get my percentage, I count my sprouted bean seeds and multiply by five and that will be the percentage out of 100.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there are 12 sprouted seeds (and by the way, this test was only for five days, if I really wanted to push things, I could have easily kept the seeds in the roll for up to 10 days, getting an even higher percentage, but I was in a hurry for many reasons).  Twelve sprouted seeds times five is 60%, because, if you're math challenged like I am, it takes five times twenty to make 100 and that's how we find the percent. 

Now 60% germination will not win any real award, in fact it is illegal to sell seed with 60% germination.  But in this case, to use these beans up, I would plant 2 seeds for every plant I want.  If I was wanting to have a fava in every spot where I planted them, I might sow two seeds per spot and then put a couple seeds into 4" containers to fill in any hole that ended up empty.

So, yes ma'am. These are good seeds enough for home use. They'll spend the summer in a cool, dark and dry place (in the plastic bag in my fridge with the door closed almost all the time) and I'll plant them out this fall. Or, you might find some of them with the Seed Library Of Los Angeles where you'll get double the amount to make up for the low germination. 

Soon, I'll be showing off my black garbanzo beans I'm SO excited about.  Do stay tuned!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Food Plants From the Ark of Taste We Can Grow In Southern California

In our Mediterranean climate, we can grow a lot of different food plants – in fact, almost all of them. The only time we find difficulty in growing plants that thrive elsewhere is with the perennials and fruit trees. 

The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates.

Since 1996, more than 2,500 products from over 50 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste. Over 200 of these foods are from the USA, and we are always seeking more edible treasures to include.

The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, seed libraries, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country's diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage.

More information about discovering, nominating, tasting and championing Ark of Taste varieties can be found at:

Here are a list of many of the Ark of Taste plants we can grow in our SoCal gardens:

Algonquian Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
Amish Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) – this is one of my favorites
Amish Pie Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Arikara Yellow Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa)
Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Beaver Dam Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Bodega Red Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Bolita Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Boston Marrow Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Bradford Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus v. Bradford 1)
Brown and White Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) 
Burbank Tomato (I know it as “Burbank Slicing Tomato) (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Canada Crookneck Squash (Cucurbita moschata
Candy Roaster Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Chalk’s Early Jewel Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Chapalote Corn (Zea mays)
Cherokee Purple Tomato (Lycopersicon Lycopersicum)
Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Chiltepin Pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum)
Christmas Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus)
Crane Melon (Cucumis melo)
Datil Pepper (Capsicum chinense)
Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet (Beta vulgaris)
Early Rose Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Fish Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Four Corners Gold Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Garnet Chili Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
German Pink Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Gilfeather Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
Green Mountain Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Hanson Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Hayman Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas v. Hayman)
Hidatsa Red Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hinkelhatz Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Hopi Mottled Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
Hussli Tomato Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
I'Itoi Onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
Inchelium Red Garlic (Allium sativum)
Inciardi Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Jacob’s Cattle Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying pepper (Capiscum annuum)
Jimmy Red Corn (Zea mays indentata)
Kentucky Limestone Bibb Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
King Philip Corn (Zea mays)
Kleckley Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Landrace Red Creole Onion (Allium cepa)
Lina Cisco’s Bird Egg Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Livingston’s Globe Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Livingston’s Golden Queen Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata)
Makah Ozette Potato (Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigena)
Marrowfat Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Martin's Carrot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Mayflower Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Mississippi Silver Hull Bean-Crowder Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata)
Moon & Stars Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
New Mexican Native Chile Pepper (Capiscum annuum)
New Mexico Native Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica)
O'odham Pink Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Orange Oxheart Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Pantin Mamey Sapote (Pouteria sapota)
Purple Straw Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Red McClure Potato
Rio Zape Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Rockwell Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Roy’s Calais Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Santa Maria Pinquitos Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Sea Island White Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Seashore Black Rye (Secale cereale)
Seminole Pumpkin (chassa howitska) (Cucurbita moschata)
Seven Top Turnip (Brassica rapa)
Sheboygan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Sheepnose Pimiento (Capiscum annuum)
Sibley Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Spanish Roja Garlic (Allium sativum)
Speckled Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn (Zea mays)
Sudduth Strain Brandywine Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Tennis Ball Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Thelma Sanders Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
True Red Cranberry Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Craw Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Tuscarora White Corn (Zea mays)
Valencia Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Wenk’s Yellow Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
White African Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
White Cap Flint Corn (Zea mays)
White Sonora Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
White Velvet Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Yellow Cabbage Collard (Brassica oleracea)
Yellow-Meated Watermelon (Citrillus lanatus)

The beans, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes and wheats are very easy for saving seeds
The many okras, sorghums and squashes are a little harder but totally do-able.
Watermelons are hard to grow here, but if you can get it to grow, the good news is that no one will have a watermelon to cross pollinate your watermelon.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Getting Into Seed Saving - We All Started Somewhere

We have all been “beginning” seed savers at one time or another. While some have been at it their whole lives, others have come to the party much later in life; others have saved one seed, for example, tomato seed, but haven't bothered with anything else. We can become intimidated by the seemingly endless bits of information from plant to plant and, overwhelmed, through up our hands in despair and put off learning it until next year.

I think I would have done that same thing as well, except I had already scheduled a seminar with me teaching seed saving to about 50 people in 3 months. I was kind of under the gun. I knew of some seed saving, after all, I knew my grandfather had saved seeds – I well remember the kitchen table covered with newsprint and tomato seeds spread out to dry before being  put into envelopes saving for next year.

I dove into several books (see bibliography below), reading them and comparing notes and tried putting what I was reading into action as best I could. I learned that reading about seed saving had it's limits. Doing seed saving taught me much faster, although a little theory up front was necessary. It's just you don't learn how to save seeds by reading everything the world has written about seed saving. We learn by doing it. And everything is easy if you know how!

You will make mistakes. Usually, the mistakes can be eaten and that's the end of it. Some mistakes end up in the compost pile. No big deal. Accept that making mistakes is your price for admission to the club of seed savers.

Start out simple and small. Do not overwhelm yourself. Choose a vegetable from the “easy to save seeds” list. If you already put dry beans, peas or other legumes aside to be hydrated and cooked in the off season, you are already saving those seeds! The only thing you might change is to look the plants over before you harvest from them, looking for the plant that had the most, or the biggest, maybe the earliest or the latest beans. Whatever you fancy as a good visible trait in your beans. Mark the plant you find to be “the best” and save seeds from those several plants to plant next year. By doing that over and over again, you are “selecting” for that trait and by golly one day you might have a variety that is bigger, better, earlier or later to call your own!

Chose your first seed saving activity from this list:
Beans – of all kinds
Garbanzo beans

Self pollination is found in about 15% of all plants. It is really very predominate in the bean family, Fabacea, the grass family, Poacea – except for corn which is a plant unto its self. Some plants in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, do self-pollinate, others cross. Count on lettuce to always self but other sunflowerish plants to self only as a last resort.

Start with the self-pollinators as they are the easiest. You really have nothing to do but save the seeds! But what does that mean?

Seeds always come after the plant has flowered – in fact, as far as the plant is concerned, producing flowers, which then produce the seeds, is what it's all about. There is a bevy of jokes of poor taste here, but I'll leave it to your imagination. You never see lettuce flowers because your whole gardening career is to eat it before it bolts. (Remember the term, “gone to seed?” Like a referral to a once prosperous town that has fallen on hard times, could be said “It's just went to seed” as a derisive comment – our 'job' as gardeners is to get rid of those plants before they've gone to seed.) We've stood the traditional garden model on it's head.

(Working in my garden one day, in an area full of plants that had “gone to seed” - a man from the street called to me, “Is this your garden?” I said it was. Pointing to all the plants that were in various stages past prime eating time, “If this was my garden, I shoot myself!” because he was measuring it by a different metric. I saw seeds, he saw overgrown, tough plants.)

I have always believed that persistence and patience were the golden keys to gardening – and I think it's even more true for seed savers.

I'll go into specifics in later posts, but for right now I would like you to do two things. I'd like you to buy a notebook – or create a Word document – in which to track your seed saving experiences. I want you to be able to track your seeds through a couple of generations to see how well you are doing – or if it's just not happening for you, and I'd like to you read part of ONE book listed below. Lettuce season for us is about over – if you have one variety of lettuce you love, let one or two plants go to seed – just by leaving them alone – if they are isolated to where you can cut down – or eliminate – the water, all the better. You will see the flowers fade and, as the plant becomes ever less attractive, you'll begin to see little cups – where the flowers once were – full of seeds – maybe 10 to 20 seeds in each one. Viola! You have saved seeds! You'll need to make sure they are completely dry and then store them – cool, dark and dry – for next season.  More on that too!

If you have no lettuce left, get some beans in the ground and follow my advice above about saving the seeds that are more like what you want. I'll discuss how to store them in an upcoming blog (easy-peasy)! 


* observe your tomato flowers as they first open: do the inner parts of the tomato flower extend beyond the flower's tip? If so, you have a variety that can be pollinated by insects and is therefore not a “self-pollinating” tomato. This is more common in the old varieties of tomatoes, sadly, usually the ones you most want to save.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys ©1997, Henry Holt It is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish (NEWSFLASH: IT IS BACK IN PRINT!!!) It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book makes this to be the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Mother Earth News has the entire book on a CD – you can find it on their website – of course that's not a book, but you will have the data.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance © 2010 OSA This publication is a free download from It is a succinct guide with few frills but a great deal of good data. A free publication that is worth paying for! Organic Seed Alliance is a non-profit relying on contributions to fight the invasion of hybrids and GMO seeds in our lives. I suggest throwing a donation their way as they deserve it.

Breed Your Won Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing The subtitle gets more to our point: The Gardeners' and Farmers Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, I had bought this book about three years ago and, for whatever reason, I ignored it. In preparing to teach seed saving one more time,, the subtitle pulled me in: Suddenly, it was a different book. She is very, very funny and her stories of seed saving are heart warming; I felt I had met a kindred spirit – I want to drive to Oregon and 'shoot the compost' about seeds over a brew or tea or whatever she's having. 

These are the three I found the best.  Deppe's book (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) starts out with stuff I still do not understand, but half way through, the whole book changes into the  best stuff written about saving seeds and it is easily assimilated.  

When I teach seed saving the OSA guide is the one I recommend because it is free and, at 35 pages, it is always right on point.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Heirloom Seeds, One Story

The large container goes back to the Pineschi
family, the large jar is for SLOLA and the small
jar is mine to plant!  Seeds are abundant! 

There are seeds and seed stories everywhere. Everyone has a relationship to seeds whether they own it or not, because the history of humans and human civilizations are intertwined so deeply, over so many hundreds of years, has made it so. Today's industrial agriculture obfuscates that which once was an intimate relationship into a commodity that we buy, sell, grown with poison and produced with the cheapest means to get to market.

But seed savers everywhere, want to hold the seed and know the story behind the seed – how did it come to be here? And it is the story that makes heirloom seeds “Heirlooms.” There are many old seeds – seeds of varieties that have been around for 100 years or more – but they aren't “heirlooms” without a story.

This is about a seed with a story. I don't know how old this variety is, but the story is good enough for the seed to be called an heirloom and the story seems to point to the fact that it is indeed an heirloom. It's starts out with a dental appointment.

My dental hygienist is married to a dentist. She sees me three or four times a year, if I'm lucky, he sees me three or four times a decade. Professionally at least. So this was one of those professional encounters where I get the question “are you numb yet?” I'm slow about getting numb. He has some stuff in my mouth and my hygienist drops by to say hi, and says to her husband, “David has started a seed library to save old seeds...” And the dentist gets very excited!

It turns out that his grandmother (great-grandmother?) had given him some seeds when he had graduated dental school and was moving to Los Angeles to set up his practice. He was charged with these bean seeds as they were the family bean. He had them for over fifteen years and was not so successful in growing enough to keep the seeds supply healthy and he asked if I would help keep his family bean alive. Of course I would! That's what being a seed savior is all about!

Within a week, I was given an envelope of about 55 seeds of a bean. They were small seeds and I was told they were old. I planted all that I had and presently had a crop of four plants – not a lot of beans. Once the plants were growing and the leaves were distinct, I realized this was not a common bean – Phaseolus vulgaris. And the beans themselves were too long as well. A little research and I figured I had Vigna unguiculata, a close relative, and edible, but not the common bean. It took more time to figure out how to pronounce “unguiculata” than it did to find the correct binomial for it.

This species is called 'cowpea' probably because they were used for forage for animals as well as human consumption. Cultivated cowpeas are known by the common names black-eyed pea, southern pea, yardlong bean, and crowder pea. Fairly common – and their ability to grow in sandy soil makes them a desirable species to have in our storage. They were domesticated in Africa and are one of the oldest crops to be farmed and not an American bean – like Phaseolus vulgaris, which is what one might suspect without digging into the history of beans. A second domestication event probably occurred in Asia, before they spread into Europe and the Americas.

Our 'cowpea' came from Italy and we call it the Pineschi Family Bean in deference to Dr. Pineschi and his wife that brought this bean to my attention. You can check this productive bean out from the Seed Library when we restock our summer seeds in March. It is a vigorous climber and a good producer of 10 to 12 inch long slender pods. Pick young pods, in the 10 to 12 range and just steam them. I, of course, add butter. Delicious!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

SLOLA Heads Up To Heirloom Expo

(We have been a little too silent on the blog for the last while.  Some things have cleared up and now we hope to have more consistent posting on this blog.  Look forward to postings of the SLOLA newsletter as well as monthly minutes of the board meetings, advice on seed saving, articles and opinions on seed saving and diversity as well as some off topic humor and observations.Sorry to have been away, but too many good things were happening!)

SLOLA will be participating in our 6th Annual Heirloom Expo - this is the 7th annual Expo, we missed the first, but we've not missed since.  

The SLOLA booth is on the southeast side of Grace Pavilion.  Come by, say hi, get some free seeds and, if you feel so inclined, help us in the booth - this year we have shortage of volunteers, so any and all help will be appreciated - if you are from a different seed library, bring your flies and we'll pass them out too!  This isn't a competition - we want all of us to win!  

Founding Chair David King will be speaking on Tuesday on Pollination in the City (the alternate name for the presentation is Pollination - Sex In The City!)  All the information available on pollination distances is from research farms, which is not the same ecosystem we face in the city.  There are more questions than answers at this time, but if you are growing for seed in a city, this presentation will give you stuff to chew on!

There are many wonderful speakers every year and this year we are treated to Anna Peach, Larry Korn, Jared Zystro, and Vandana Shiva ampng many others of our favorite speakers. Panels and workshops and activites and fun.  If you are a 'seedhead' or just inclined to be a part of the food producing world, you owe it to yourself to drop out!  You'll be very glad you did.  

Look for more postings on this and other topics.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Seed Saving Cheatsheet – According to Complexity


Bean, Lettuce, Pea, Pepper, Tomato
These vegetables offer the beginning seed saver the best chance for successful seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.

BeanPhaseolus vulgaris
PLANT: Although, ideally, different varieties should be separated by 150 feet or another crop flowering at the same time, cross-pollination is rare even when two varieties are grown next to each other.
FLOWER: Beans produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Cross pollination by insects is possible but rare as pollination occurs before the flower opens. Because the anthers are pushed up against the stigma, automatic pollination is assured when the anthers open.
HARVEST: Allow pods to dry brown before harvesting, about six weeks after eating stage.
PROCESS: Small amounts of pods can be opened by hand. Flail larger amounts.

LettuceLactuca sativa
PLANT: Separate varieties flowering at the same time by at least 20 feet to ensure purity.
FLOWER: Lettuce produces perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Each flower produces one seed. Flowers are grouped in little heads of 10-25 flowers all of which open at once for as little as 30 minutes.
HARVEST: Some outside leaves can be harvested for eating without harming seed production. Allow seed heads to dry 2-3 weeks after flowering. Individual heads will ripen at different times making the harvest of large amounts of seed at one time nearly impossible. Wait until half the flowers on each plant has gone to seed. Cut entire top of plant and allow to dry upside down in an open paper bag.
PROCESS: Small amounts of seed can be shaken daily from individual flowering heads. Rub with hands to remove remaining seeds. If necessary, separate seeds from chaff with screens.

Peas Pisum sativum
PLANT: Ideally, different varieties need to be separated 50 feet or with another crop flowering at the same time..
FLOWER: Peas produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Cross-pollination by insects is possible but rare because pollination occurs before the flower opens. Because the stigma does open before pollen is ready crosses theoretically could occur.
HARVEST: Allow pods to dry brown before harvesting, about four weeks after eating stage.
PROCESS: Small amounts of pods can be opened by hand. Flail larger amounts.

PepperCapsicum annuum
PLANT: Most home gardeners will get satisfactory results if different varieties are separated by 50 feet and another tall, flowering crop. New studies from New Mexico State University show more crossing than was previously thought. We recommend at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity.
FLOWER: Peppers produce perfect, mostly self-pollinating flowers. Solitary bees will pollinate if a more desirable pollen is not available in the area.
HARVEST: Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. (Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature.)
PROCESS: There are two methods, dry and wet, to process pepper seeds. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning. To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

TomatoLycopersicon esculentum
FLOWER: Tomatoes produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Anthers are fused together into a little cone that rarely opens until pollen has been shed and the stigma pollinated. (Older varieties with wild tomatoes or L. pimpinellifolium in their genetic ancestry may have stigmas that stick out beyond the cone containing the anthers. Varieties with this trait can be identified by looking closely at mature flowers and need to be treated accordingly.)
HARVEST: If possible, allow tomatoes to completely ripen before harvesting for seed production. Seeds from green, unripe fruits will be most viable if extracted after allowing the fruits to turn color.
PROCESS: Cut the tomato into halves at its equator, opening the vertical cavities that contain the seeds. Gently squeeze out from the cavities the jelly-like substance that contains the seeds. If done carefully, the tomato itself can still be eaten or saved for canning, sun-drying or dehydrating.
Place the jelly and seeds into a small jar or glass. (Add a little water if you are processing only one or two small tomatoes.) Loosely cover the container and place in a warm location, 60-75° F. for about three days. Stir once a day.
A layer of fungus will begin to appear on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This fungus not only eats the gelatinous coat that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also produces antibiotics that help to control seed-borne diseases like bacterial spot, canker and speck.
After three days fill the seed container with warm water. Let the contents settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of tomato pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Note: Viable seeds are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out and invert the strainer onto paper towel or piece of newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely (usually a day or two). Break up the clumps into individual seeds, label and store in a packet or plastic bag.


Corn, Cucumber, Muskmelon, Radish, Spinach, Squash/Pumpkin. 
The experienced seed saver's vegetables produce seed the season they are planted but require separation to keep unwanted cross-pollination from taking place
Corn - Zea mays
PLANT: Female corn flowers are pollinated predominately by the wind, rarely by insects. Pollen is light and can be carried great distances. For purity, separate two varieties pollinating at the same time by at least 1 mile. Reasonable results are obtained with separation of 1000 feet.
FLOWER: Corn is monecious, producing separate male and female flowers on each plant. Male flowers appear as tassels on the top of corn stalks and female flowers are pollinated via the silk emerging from each ear.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Corn is susceptible to intense inbreeding depression. If seed is saved from too few plants, subsequent plants may be short, mature late and produce few ears. Grow at least 200 plants and save the seeds from at least 100 of the best.
HARVEST: Corn seed is usually ready to be harvested 4-6 weeks after eating stage.
PROCESS: Process all but very large amounts of seed by gripping dried ears by hand and twisting allowing kernels to fall into container. Any remaining silk and chaff can be winnowed.

CucumberCucumis sativus
(All cucumbers except Armenian cucumbers which are Cucumis melo)
PLANT: Separate two different cucumber varieties by at least 1/2 mile, or segregate by time to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers can grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques.
FLOWER: Cucumbers are mostly monoecious with separate male and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking cucumber) at the base of the flower. Cucumber vines will produce the greatest amount of female flowers when day length shortens to approximately 11 hours per day. Fruits will be aborted during dry spells and very hot weather.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Although inbreeding depression is not usually noticeable in cucumbers, seeds should be saved from at least 6 cucumbers on 6 different plants.
HARVEST: Cucumbers raised for seed cannot be eaten. They should be left to ripen at least 5 weeks after eating stage until they have turned a golden color.
PROCESS: Slice fruit lengthwise and scrape seeds out with spoon. Allow seeds and jelly-like liquid to sit in jar at room temperature for 3 or 4 days. Fungus will start to form on top. Stir daily. Jelly will dissolve and good seeds will sink to bottom while remaining debris and immature seeds can be rinsed away. Spread seeds on a paper towel or screen until dry. (See instructions for tomato.)

MuskmelonCucumis melo
Divided below into seven separate groups because of similar features. All C. melos varieties in all groups will cross with each other. They will not cross with watermelons which are Citrullus vulgaris. 
Indorus: honeydew, crenshaw, casaba
Conomon: Asian, pickling melons
Dundaim: pocket melon
Cantalupensis: true cantelopes (without netted skin)
Flexuosus: Armenian cucumbers
Reticulatus: Persian melons, muskmelons with netted skin and orange flesh
Chito: orange melon, garden lemon melon
PLANT: Separate two different muskmelons by at least 1/2 mile or separate by time to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Muskmelon flowers are small and relatively difficult to hand pollinate.
FLOWER: Muskmelons are mostly monoecious with separate male and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking melon) at the base of the flower. The early flowers are the most likely to be successfully pollinated and eventually produce seeds.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Not usually a problem with muskmelons.
HARVEST: Muskmelon seed is mature and can be harvested from ripe and ready to eat muskmelons.
PROCESS: Simply rinse seeds clean, dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying.

RadishRaphanus sativus
PLANT: Separate different varieties being grown for seed at the same time by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Satisfactory results for home gardeners require no more that 250 feet of separation. As radishes cannot self-pollinate, pollen must be carried by insects from plant to plant.
FLOWER: Radishes produce annual flowers which require pollination by insects, primarily bees.
HARVEST: Harvest 3' tall stalks containing seeds pods when pods have dried brown. Pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry place if all pods are not dried at the end of the growing season.
PROCESS: Open pods by hand for small amounts of seed. Pods that do not open when rubbed between hands can be pounded with hammer or mallet. Winnow to remove remaining chaff.

SpinachSpinacia oleracae
PLANT: It is probably best to grow seeds for only one variety of spinach at a time. Remove plants which bolt first, and thin remaining plants to 8" for seed production. Leave one male plant for each two females to ensure pollination.
FLOWER: Spinach is "dioecious", with male and female flowers on separate plants. Flowers are wind pollinated by spinach's dust-like, powdery pollen which can be carried for miles..
HARVEST: Some outside leaves can be harvested for eating without harming seed production. If possible, wait until all plants have dried brown. Pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry place if necessary at the end of the growing season.
PROCESS: Strip seeds in upward motion and let them fall into container. Chaff can be winnowed. Use gloves for prickly-seeded types.

Squash/Pumpkin -
Cucurbita maxima varieties with large, hairy leaves, long vines and soft, hairy stems and include: banana squashes, buttercups, hubbards and marrows
Cucurbita mixta varieties with large, hairy leaves, long vines and hard, hairy stems and include the cushaws
Cucurbita moschata varieties similar to C. mixta with flaring stems at the fruit and large, green sepals surrounding the flowers and include: butternuts
Cucurbita pepo varieties with prickly stems and leaves with a hard, five-angled stem and include: acorn squashes, cocozelles, pumpkins, crooknecks, scallops, spaghetti squashes and zucchinis
PLANT: Squashes from different species (see above) can be grown next to each other. Separate different squash varieties in the same species by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. (Some crossing between C. mixta and C. moschata has been reported recently.) Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Squash flowers are large and relatively easy to hand pollinate.
FLOWER: Squashes are monoecious with male flowers and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking squash) at the base of the flower. (Some female flowers have stamens.)
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Not usually noticed in squash and pumpkins.
HARVEST: Squash must be fully mature before harvested for seed production. This means that summer squashes must be left on the vine until outer shell hardens. Allow to cure 3-4 additional weeks after harvest to encourage further seed ripening.
PROCESS: Chop open hard-shelled fruits and scoop out seeds. Rinse clean in wire strainer with warm, running water. Dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying


Beet/Swiss Chard, Cabbage Family, Carrot,  Escarole/Frissee,  Onion,Radicchio/Endive,  Turnip/Chinese Cabbage. 

Beet/Swiss ChardBeta vulgaris
PLANT: Grow seed for only one variety of beet or Swiss chard at any one time.
FLOWER: Beets and Swiss chard produce perfect flowers. Pollen is light and can be carried for miles by the wind.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Save seed from at least 6 different beets to ensure genetic diversity and vigor.
HARVEST: Cut 4' tall tops just above the root when majority flowering clusters have turned brown. Tops can be stored in cool, dry locations for 2-3 weeks to encourage further seed ripening.
PROCESS: Small quantities of seed can be stripped by hand as seed matures. Large numbers of tops can be put into a cloth bag and stomped or pounded. Chaff can be winnowed.

Cabbage Family Brassica oleracea
Please Note: All check outs of Brassica oleracea do NOT require returned seed. Best Practices has concluded the difficulty level of returning pure seeds (seed not crossed with other varieties) is too high. SLOLA will continue to buy these seeds, as well as others as needed to keep our seed genetics reliably certain. 
Includes broccoli, brussels sprout, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.
PLANT: All vegetables and varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens.
FLOWER: Flowers are perfect, most of which cannot be self-pollinated. Necessary cross-pollination is performed by bees. The stigma becomes receptive before the flower opens, and pollen is shed hours after the flower opens.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Plant at least 6 different plants to protect vigor and ensure a reasonable amount of genetic diversity.
HARVEST: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi heads grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow individual pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. For larger amounts of seeds pull entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.
PROCESS: Smash unopened pods in cloth bag with mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed.
CarrotDaucus carota
PLANT: Separate different varieties at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. (Queen Anne's Lace or wild carrot will cross with garden carrot.) Alternate day caging or caging with introduced pollinators allows two or more varieties to be grown for seed in small gardens.
FLOWER: Carrots produce perfect flowers that are cross-pollinated by a number of insects. Flowers are arranged in round, flat groups called umbels.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Carrots can exhibit severe inbreeding depression. Save and mix seed from as many different carrots as possible.
HARVEST: For small amounts, hand pick each umbel as it dries brown. Large amounts of seed can be harvested by cutting entire flowering top as umbels begin to dry. Allow to mature in cool, dry location for an additional 2-3 weeks.
PROCESS: Clean small amounts by rubbing between hands. Larger amounts can be beaten from stalks and umbels. Screen and winnow to clean. Carrot seed is naturally hairy or "bearded". Debearding in the cleaning process does not affect germination.

Onion - Allium sp.
Varieties within each onion species will cross with each other. Crosses between species although not common, are possible.
Allium schoenoprasum: Common chives
Allium tuberosum: Garlic chives
Allium fistulosum: Japanese bunching onions (Occasional crossing between A. fistulosum and A. cepa has been observed.)
Allium cepa comprised of three groups: Aggregatum includes shallots, multiplier onions and potato onions; Cepa our biennial, common storage and slicing onions; Proliferum includes the Egyptian or walking onions.
PLANT: Separate from other flowering Alliums of the same species at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. 
FLOWER: The Alliums produce perfect flowers, most of which are cross-pollinated because stigmas in each flower become receptive only after pollen in that flower is shed. Flowers in an individual umbel open and shed pollen at different times so crosses can and do occur on the same plant. Cross-pollination is performed mostly by bees.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Onions display a fair amount of inbreeding depression after two or three generations of self-pollination. Save and mix the seeds from at least two different plants.
HARVEST: Clip umbels as soon as majority of flowers have dried. Seeds will start dropping from some flowers at this time so check often. Allow to dry in cool, dry location for up to 2-3 weeks.
PROCESS: Fully dried flowers will drop clean seeds naturally. For small amounts, rub remaining flowers to free seeds. For larger amounts, rub heads over screens. Winnow to remove remaining debris.