Saving Seeds from Cole Crops

Learn how to save seeds from broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and kale.

  • The heads of these root-cellared cabbages are harvested for eating, but in the spring, their stalks are planted back into the garden. Although the terminal buds in each head were removed, the plants will form small flower shoots and produce seeds from the lateral buds.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Chinese broccoli is an annual form of Brassica oleracea that bears white flowers, as opposed to the yellow flowers that are predominant within the species.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Although the flowers of Brassica oleracea are perfect, they are insect-pollinated because the plants have a self-incompatibility system that prevents self-pollination.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Filled with advice for the home gardener and the seasoned horticulturist alike, “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving” provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type.
    Cover courtesy Seed Savers Exchange

The Seed Garden (Seed Savers Exchange, 2015) by Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro and edited by Lee Buttala & Shanyn Siegel brings together decades of research and hands-on experience to teach both novice gardeners and seasoned horticulturists how to save the seeds of their favorite vegetable varieties.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Seed Garden.

Brassica oleracea has the largest diversity of crop types among the vegetable species; it includes heading and sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, European kale, and kohlrabi, as well as less well-known forms such as Chinese broccoli. Although most of these crops are biennials, a few are annuals and can produce seeds in one growing season. The process of bringing these plants to flower varies between the different crop types, but the

 methods used for harvesting and cleaning the seeds are essentially the same across the species. All forms of Brassica oleracea are cross-compatible, and isolation needs to be managed thoughtfully, but because most are biennials that will not flower until their second season, a gardener can grow multiple varieties for eating while simultaneously growing one variety for seed saving.

Crop Types

Over the millennia, farmers have created the incredible diversity within Brassica oleracea by selectively developing crops with edible stems, leaves, or flower buds.

Collard greens and European kale were prob­ably the first cultivated forms of Brassica oleracea, and both were developed for their edible leaves. The leaves of collard greens appear most often in varying shades of green with white stems, but some varieties have purple leaves or stems. Kale varieties range in color from green—including dark greens that appear almost black—to reddish purple. They may have savoyed leaves, such as ‘Lacinato’, or frilly leaves, such as ‘Vates’ and other curly kales. Siberian kale (Russian kale) belongs to the species Brassica napus and is not cross-compatible with any of the Brassica olera­cea crops.

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