Learning to Break Seed-Saving Rules to Breed Our Own Vegetables

Reader Contribution by Pamela Sherman
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When my son was a toddler and wanted to do big-kid acrobatics on the play equipment, I’d tell him, “no, you can’t do that.” He’d look up at me, smile sweetly, and say persistently, “just try, Mommy, just try!”

That “Just Try” became a bit of a mantra for me in ridiculous situations.

We live at 8,300 feet in a mountain draw in the Rockies with screaming winds. It’s accepted knowledge in these parts that “you can’t grow food in the mountains.” This makes perfect, logical sense. But we did try, we kept trying, and we’ve been doing it now for over 25 years.

Saving seed has helped us create local varieties of squash, onions, kale, garlic, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers (the latter two in a greenhouse) that can actually survive here.

Learning to Break Seed Saving Rules to Breed Our Own Vegetables

Seedsman Bill McDorman, founder of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, tells the following story:

“Our friend Dima who lives in Novosibirsk, Siberia, grows watermelons. Al though most knowledgeable agricultural experts in Siberia will tell you that watermelons do not grow in Siberia. Dima, after several years, produced a single, small, tennis ball-sized fruit. He carefully saved the only two seeds produced by the melon and planted them the following spring. Success again. Dima saved several seeds from the largest fruit. When we met Dima 10 years into his “melon adventure” his garden was consistently producing kilo-sized melons.” (SeedSave.org)

In Breed Your Own Vegetables, author Carol Deppe discloses that it took professional breeder Calvin Lamborn of Rogers Brothers Seed Company, the developer of ‘Sugar Snap’ peas, only two years after the original cross to pop those sugar snaps into his mouth. It took eight more years to develop enough seed to produce enough material to sell it commercially. But he was able to eat them much sooner than common wisdom would have us believe possible.

Just Trying with a Short, 60-Day Corn Variety

At a recent seed exchange, Torrie Rae of SEED Brown County in Indiana, gave me some seed for a corn variety that grows only 2.5 feet tall but produces mature ears in 60 days. 60 days is perfect for us, but this variety is from a wet, high-latitude coast, the opposite growing environment from the semi-arid Rockies. So I said to her, “that won’t work at my house.” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Just try, Pam, just try!”

Come Spring, it’s going in the ground. With plants I will never say “never.” I will just smile and give it a try.

Do you have a story of  a few improbable seeds that grew where the rules say they shouldn’t,  a breeding project that took less time than the rules say it should have, or any other instance where your seeds have “broken the rules” when you “just tried?”  Please let us know how it went and how it’s going at your house.

Photo by Steve Sherman

Pamela Shermanis a volunteer Seed Saving Teacher trained by and associated with theRocky Mountain Seed Alliance. She is trained in permaculture and applied agroecology and has been growing food with her family high in the Rockies for several decades.Connect with Pamela on the Rocky Mountain Seed AllianceFacebook page.


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