Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Seed saving

The middle of September has crept up on me.  As we pass the middle of the month (15th) it is definitely spring.  It does seem rather cold and wet for spring,  but it is certainly that time of the year.  For those of us who are trying to grow food, this is the time to plant the summer crops.
This has quite a different significance for the climate here compared with the gardening for the summer in other places that I have lived in North America where the soil is frozen in winter and the only growing season is during the summer.  This is not as difficult as it sounds,  because in fact the much longer daylight hours make summers at higher latitudes quite different altogether...  plants grow so fast!

Anyway,  it is spring and I need to be planting for the summer crops.  The "rule of thumb" is that one should plant something whenever one picks something from the garden, or at the least weekly.  This week I have bought four zucchini plants and four cucumber plants from the nursery.  They are planted and all looking healthy.   I prefer to start my own seedlings usually... it is much more economical...  but having just participated in an election campaign,  the garden and the plantings have been rather ignored.

In recent times,  I have also been saving my own seed from plantings in the garden.  At first I tried the easiest varieties...  broad beans, clary sage, borage, parsley, kale and broccoli.   These are all easy to grow, easy to collect and can be sown directly into the garden again.
I am ready to branch out into some other, more difficult varieties...  tomatoes?  capsicum or chillis?  and onions and leeks.

What has reminded me of this is the Chinese broccoli (gai lan) that has finally gone to seed because I stopped picking it...  it is flowering, and I'm waiting for the seed pods....
If you look carefully at these plants,   you will see the strange shape of the main stems...  this is caused by picking the broccoli shoots for months from the same plants.  We have been eating the new shoots at least weekly (sometimes more often) for months....  and they continue to produce leafy green stir-fry (or soup) ingredients.   I planted these as seeds at the end of last summer and they have produced the most food (with respect to effort) compared with any other plants in the garden.  (I will look at other Chinese vegetables... perhaps this is something that the Chinese have learned...  the most food for the least effort.)
Now that we have so much food available in the garden,  I have decided to collect seeds from these plants... to be planted at the end of summer again.  Not only are the seeds that I collect inexpensive, but they are actually better.

There are two reasons for the better quality of the seeds that I collect from my garden.

  1. First of all,  these seeds are definitely "fresh",  having been collected in the seaason immediately before the one when  I plant them.  
  2. The other reason for my superior seeds is that they are particularly adapted to the soil and conditions in this micro-climate.  

The seeds that convinced me of this second advantage are those that I collected from my broad bean plants several years ago.
When I had an abundance of these seeds (broad beans), even after adding some of them to soup in the winter, I planted them in a couple of rows...  but I also planted some "bought" seeds of the same variety at the same time...
Both of these groups grew well and produced beans, but the "local" seeds grew significantly larger, had bigger leaves and more beans.
While I know that this is not a scientifically controlled experiment, and I would need to be much more disciplined to be able to make a definitive conclusion,  I have seen enough difference to encourage me to use my own seeds when I can.

And so today,  as spring arrives, I am planting more, and more often, in an attempt to catch up after the planting hiatus during the recent election in which I was a candidate...  back to the real world...  for that is what food growing and eating is.

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