Growing Seeds of Your Own for Vegetables

No matter what the experts say, growing seeds—your own viable, true-to-type vegetable seeds—is indeed something you can do in your own backyard if you know the right techniques.

| September/October 1978

  • 053-growing-seeds-10-winnowed-seeds.jpg
    Done properly, growing seeds for your own use may produce a lot more than you actually can use.
    PHOTO: DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-09-stored-seeds2.jpg
    As long as the temperature and humidity are within acceptable limits, it's OK to store seeds in a pantry or basement with your other food.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-diagram-flower.jpg
    Cutaway diagram of a flow shows all the parts, male and female, involved in propagating seeds.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 053-growing-seeds-diagram-caging-methods.jpg
    Diagram shows assorted methods of caging a vegetable plant to prevent cross-pollination.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 053-growing-seeds-01-male-squash-blossom.jpg
    A male squash blossom.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-03-female-squash.jpg
    A closed female squash blossom.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-02-male-blossom-no-petals.jpg
    A male squash blossom with the petals removed to expose its anthers.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-04-artificial-insemination.jpg
    Hand pollinating a squash.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-06-blossom-wired-shut2.jpg
    A pollinated and closed female squash blossom.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-05-wire2.jpg
    After hand pollinating a female squash blossom, use a piece of wire to hold it closed.
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-08-separating-chaff2.jpg
    Method of winnowing chaff from seeds. 
    DOUG MILLER
  • 053-growing-seeds-07-capped-blossom2.jpg
    A female pepper blossom isolated within a gelatin capsule.
    DOUG MILLER

  • 053-growing-seeds-10-winnowed-seeds.jpg
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-09-stored-seeds2.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-diagram-flower.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-diagram-caging-methods.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-01-male-squash-blossom.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-03-female-squash.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-02-male-blossom-no-petals.jpg
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-04-artificial-insemination.jpg
  • 053-growing-vegetable-seeds-06-blossom-wired-shut2.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-05-wire2.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-08-separating-chaff2.jpg
  • 053-growing-seeds-07-capped-blossom2.jpg

Several years ago, when we were first building up our homestead here in northern Michigan, I suddenly realized that as we relied on outside sources for seed we would not be truly food self-sufficient no matter how much food we coaxed out of our soil each year. There we were, feeling a little smug because we seldom had to visit the local grocery store, yet at the same time we depended entirely on a large, remote seed-growing industry for our "daily bread." Clearly, our whole concept of self-sufficiency had a flaw in its very foundation.

At first, I was sure that saving seeds couldn't be too difficult. After all we reasoned, if the pioneers had done it we could too! In practice of course the whole idea of growing seeds turned out to be a little trickier than I had anticipated. Those first vegetables grown from our own garden seed were to say the least a trifle unusual, if not exactly inedible.

The peas and beans seemed normal enough, but the radishes had rather strange shapes, and I couldn't really tell which cucumbers to pickle and which to slice. As for the squash and pumpkins: Let's just say that the youngsters carved some mighty weird jack-o'-lanterns that year, while their parents canned vegetables of dubious genealogy that were arbitrarily labeled "squash".

I sought help from my neighbors—all of them old, experienced farmers—and every one I asked tried to talk me out of my new enterprise. "Ya can't do it," they said. "Yer seed'll `run out'." Meaning, of course, that my vegetables would lose their unique varietal characteristics through cross-pollination with other, closely related plants.



Now, I know that most garden books and horticultural experts will tell you exactly the same thing. But I say that you can consistently produce viable, true-to-type vegetable seeds IF you know a few tricks of the trade and IF you're willing to invest the time and labor that serious seed propagation requires.

The secret of success lies in adapting such techniques as hand pollination, caging, alternate planting, and roguing—methods used by commercial seed growers to keep their strains pure and vigorous—to the particular requirements of your garden. I know it's possible, because after years of experimentation and a good bit of advice from plant-breeding experts, I have the seeds and crops to prove it!

annie1992
5/10/2019 2:07:55 PM

As a fellow "seed saver", I've also found that a single variety can do double duty and not cause cross pollination worries. For instance, I don't grow both slicing and pickling cucumbers, I grow the pickling type and no one complains about eating them in place of "slicers". My real issue is the beans, we grow about a dozen types, and the sweet corn, which cannot be "contaminated" by my grinding corn. The only way we defeated this problem is by having two garden spaces, one on each end of our 80 acres. Each of those is separated into two separate plots and all are fenced against the deer. Sweet corn on one end of the farm, corn for grinding on the other. Beans grow in both spaces, separated by other crops, but I'll still get a batch of green snap beans which will have strings because they were too close to the pink half runners or some other similar "bean" problem. there is an art to saving seeds, but as bio-diversity decreases I believe it is even more important to retain the open pollinated and heirloom types.







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