Accidentally saving radish seeds

Our garden is big enough for things to go unnoticed plus I’m not as tidy a gardener as I should be.

This week I found a radish that had gone to seed. Somehow, one radish managed to escape being harvested with the rest of the crop. It continued to grow, flower and produce seed pods right under my nose. Apparently, it got left behind when I was pulling radishes this spring.

If it is left to grow past the eating stage, a radish plant will  eventually send up a flower stalk. The  resulting flowers are then pollinated by insects. Seed pods that superficially resemble peas or beans arise from the pollinated flowers.

It takes nearly the entire growing season for radishes to produce seeds. This one’s pods were already dry and contained mature seeds.

The seeds are a bit smaller than typical radish seeds.
The seeds are a bit smaller than typical radish seeds.

Pollen from one variety of radish often will be carried by insects to a different plant and can easily cross-pollinate another variety of radish. Radishes don’t care if they are pollinated by one variety or another. The seeds resulting from the random cross may or may not produce a desirable eating radish when planted next year.

Since the one in my garden was the only one I found, the seeds should be OK — unless the pollinators brought in unknown pollen in from somewhere else. Professional seed growers separate their different radish varieties by a half mile or more.

Anyway, I’m keeping a few seeds to try out next season.


Going through garden seeds

We’ve managed to save up a pretty large collection of seeds over the past several years.

There are two large, covered containers in our garage that contain over twenty pounds of assorted vegetable and flower seeds. Most of them are long expired. The oldest are between five and ten years old. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re no longer usable. Even some of the oldest may still be viable, that all depends on what species they are. I just need to take the time to organize them.

Now's a good time to sort through our garden seeds.
Now’s a good time to sort through our garden seeds.

I plan to go through and separate the out-dated, non-poisonous ones like sweet corn, peas and melons and feed them to the chickens. The rest I’ll toss into the compost pile. I did that once about five years ago, now it’s time to do it again.

Also we have a number of current seeds, those that we’ve either purchased or saved from our own plants. They date back only a year or two or three. We keep them in glass jars in the fridge. They stay in the planting rotation from year to year. We’ll plant most of those this year.

We don’t have a detailed list of what is in those jars, that’s what Judy is doing this week. Once she gets the list done and compares it to our garden plans, we’ll place our seeds orders.


Paw paw tree from seed

I’ve heard experts, farmers and others say for decades that paw paw is on the verge of becoming the next “in vogue” fruit. They may be finally right.

Since current paw paw varieties are so difficult to handle and are impossible to ship because of the soft fruit, only local paw paws are ever available.That makes them well positioned to become popular with locavores and other foodies.

Five years ago I planted eight seeds from a paw paw fruit and ended up with a half dozen seedlings happily growing in pots. Unfortunately, they were lost during a move and I never pursued starting any more. Since it takes five to seven years for a paw paw tree to begin producing,  by now, I probably would have had a small crop to pick this year.

A few weeks ago, I was given a paw paw fruit. I was inspired once again to save the seeds and start all over again with my future paw paw orchard.

Like most trees native to this area, paw paw seeds must be stratified before they will germinate. Stratification involves exposing seeds to cold temperature and adequate moisture.

I case you've never seen one, this is a paw paw.
In case you’ve never seen one, this is a paw paw. It contains about a dozen seeds.

In this case, paw paw seeds require 90 to 120 days at 32°F to 40°F while being kept moist. The vegetable crisper of a refrigerator is just the thing to meet those conditions. Just rinse off the seeds, and place them in some moist peat moss in a zip-lock storage bag. Toss the bag in the crisper and forget about it until spring. Don’t let them dry out or freeze, either one will kill the tiny paw paw tree embryo inside the seed.

Next spring plant the seeds into pots of good potting mix. If all goes well, the seeds will sprout in about two and a half to three weeks. Then re-pot as needed in order to give the new seedlings plenty of room to grow.

The most difficult part of the whole process may be finding a paw paw fruit in the first place.




Time to let heirloom beans mature into seeds

Earlier in the season I mentioned that we were growing a few heirloom bean varieties.

The results are in. It turns out that the differences between varieties were pretty dramatic. ‘Chabarowsky’ beans out-performed all the rest of the varieties by a wide margin.

The seeds germinated and grew vigorously in the dry sandy soil in that part of the garden.

Chabarowsky has a climbing habit which makes it a pole bean type. I grew ours on a length of farm fencing so they were very easy to pick.

The beans themselves, when I picked them at the optimum time for green beans had no strings in the pods. They were simple to prepare for cooking. The rest of the varieties all needed to be “stringed” first. To be fair though, all of these varieties are grown primarily for dry beans, so picking them for green beans was not the best use for them.

On the other hand Chabarowsky beans have an excellent taste when cooked green.

I’ve picked quite a few green beans from the vines, now it’s time to let them grow and mature into dry beans. It takes about six weeks from the time the beans are in the edible stage until they will be mature enough to harvest for seed or dry beans.

Chabarowsky bean pods can get a foot long or more.
Chabarowsky bean pods grow to a foot long or more.

Chabarowsky will eventually produce white beans that look kind of like over-sized navy beans. Even though the vines are loaded with pods, there’s no way they will produce enough to make more than one batch of bean soup. Most of the beans will be used for seed. I’ll save some for planting next year and share the rest. I am curious however, how the dry beans taste.

Even though the Chabarowsky variety did well in my garden with its sand and low pH, it may not perform well in someone else’s garden. That’s why there were so many different seeds saved and passed down by generations of gardeners. The best performers in specific locations eventually became heirloom varieties.



Seed savers legacy

Many long time gardeners have tried to save seeds only to let them go after a year or two. There’s been a few times in years past when, for one reason or another, I’ve let varieties slip through my fingers.

The best luck I’ve had is keeping my own variety of tomato seeds for years, as I’ve written about in past blog posts. But that pales in comparison to a gardener in a nearby community who died recently. He left behind a collection of seeds that he had been saving for decades. Over 60 varieties of heritage annuals, biennials and vegetable seeds are in this treasure trove.

All of that valuable plant genetics could have been lost in a single year if not for a group of like-minded gardeners. Several of his friends got together and came up with a plan to save the work of that dedicated seed saver.

Each person took a few varieties and agreed to grow them. Then, at the end of the season, they would harvest the seeds and share them with the rest of the group. That way no one particular gardener had to take on the responsibility of growing all 60 varieties.

Many of those plant varieties were around before the gardener was born. The seeds passed into his hands for awhile, he nurtured and propagated  them. Now they are passing into new hands.

What a terrific gift to pass on to a new generation.


Laboratory test tube tomato vs homegrown DIY tomato

The last tomato I had in storage finally started to spoil a few weeks ago. That was a very long time for a tomato to keep without using any kind of special equipment. It was one from my own heirloom strain that I have been keeping for several years now.

This was a great opportunity for me to select for another trait in my tomato line: long term storage.

The fruit looked fine on the outside but, by the time I finally opened it, it was starting to break down inside. The slippery capsules surrounding the seeds had dissolved due to fermentation setting in. A small amount of fermentation is OK when it comes to saving tomato seeds. The alcohol produced helps to preserve the seeds to some extent.

I took my time separating  the seeds from the pulp. After all, it was one gardening related project I could do even though it was snowing outside. I ended up with quite a few sound seeds.

Picking through tomato pulp doesn’t require a lot of concentration. I found my mind wandering a bit and starting thinking about an article about genetic engineering I read in a trade publication. Part of the article talked about the very first genetically engineered tomato variety to reach the market, Flavr Savr.

One thought I had was that I was selecting for genes inside my tomato to get a specific characteristic. The method I used is one that farmers have used for thousands of years. The Flavr Savr biologist’s method was so brand new that it was patented. In their laboratory, they took a short cut by moving pieces of DNA from one tomato variety to another — if you call taking 8 years and twenty million dollars a short cut. I wish I had that kind of budget.

The Flavr Savr tomato and it’s technology was eventually sold. The tomato itself has been off the market for many years.

I need to think about sowing my seeds soon.  Right now they are safely in storage waiting to be planted. I’m interested in finding out my seed germination percentage this spring. Next winter I’ll find out how well the storage trait gets passed along to this year’s generation of tomatoes.

The website Retro Report has a video about the Favr Savr. It’s interesting to watch whichever side of the GMO debate you’re on.

Hmm, I wonder if any gardener ever thought to save any seeds from that variety.


Start seeds indoors at the proper time

Mid-March is the time when gardeners begin to sow seeds indoors.

A friend mentioned to me that she knew someone who started cantaloupe seeds already. It’s much too early for that. Those plants will end up so leggy and weak that they will not recover from transplanting out into the garden — if they live that long. It’s about a month too early for cantaloupes. I know it’s hard to do sometimes — especially for beginners —  but try to resist the urge to start seeds before their recommended sowing date.

Many seeds can be started now,  especially the cool weather vegetable crops like those in the cabbage family. Onions and their relatives such as leeks and chives are sown now too.

The time is right for indoor sowing of foxgloves, echinacea, sweet william,  petunias, snap dragons, holly hocks and several other flowers.

Parsley, thyme, oregano, sage as well as other herbs should be sown indoors now.

So, follow the suggested seeding times on the package or in the seed catalog. Amaze your friends with your healthy, home grown transplants.


Now is a good time to go through your saved seeds

I finally decided to tackle a job that I’ve been putting off for quite a while — sorting my old seeds. This is a good time  of the year to do it since things are on-hold out in the garden.

I have a large storage tub full of seed packs that I’ve been accumulating for years. At one time they were pretty well organized. However, during the past few gardening seasons, I’ve rummaged through the tub looking for particular seeds and was not very careful putting them back in the right place. Now they’re getting disheveled again.

There are quite a few packs that have never been opened. Many of those are professional-grade packs that have the original factory seal and are air-tight. Some of those contain hundreds of seeds.

I knew that this project would need a lot of space, so I set up a sheet of plywood on a pair sawhorses to use as a temporary work table.
I knew that this project would need a lot of space, so I set up a sheet of plywood on a pair sawhorses to use as a temporary work table.

I know many of the seeds are too old and are no longer viable. I’ll have to toss them out. Others are still OK so, those will go back into storage.

As for the seeds I’m not sure about, I plan to do a simple germination test. Here’s the way I do it: 1) take a set number of seeds and roll them up in a damp paper towel; 2) put the rolled up paper towel inside a plastic zip-lock bag; 3) place it in a warm spot and check them once a day.

If the seeds are good, they will usually sprout in a several days time. Then I count the number that germinated and calculate the germination percentage. That gives me a rough idea how well the seeds will perform this spring.

Once this project is done, it will be a lot easier to keep track of my surplus seeds in the future.