How to: boost the harvest
Saving seed allows you to develop vegetable varieties that thrive in your particular conditions.
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I’m a keen seed saver and grow locally saved seed if I can - either those I’ve saved myself or swapped with friends. Saving seed allows you to select seed from plants that do better in your climate or have traits you particularly like. I’ve found that after just one or two generations I end up with a superior strain that grows much more vigorously in my garden than plants from purchased seed.
Starting with seed
Growing vegetables and annual flowers from seed offers a much wider range of plants than are available as seedlings. And it doesn’t need to be fiddly. Many plants, such as beans, peas, corn, okra, pumpkins and nasturtiums, grow more vigorously when sown directly in the garden than when planted as seedlings.
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Many plants will set pods that dry on the plant and can be harvested as they start to split or disperse seeds. Shake the seed from picked pods and gently blow away any chaff. Other vegetables, including tomatoes, pumpkins and chilies, have seeds embedded in a fleshy fruit. While preparing these for eating, wash the flesh from the seed and allow it to dry. All seeds benefit from being placed in an airy, cool and shaded area to dry for a couple of weeks, before being stored in a labelled paper envelope, in an airtight container in the fridge.
Certain groups of plants can be quite promiscuous, cross-pollinating readily, resulting in mongrel plants if different varieties are allowed to flower at the same time. This is particularly true of vegetables in the Brassica family (cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, swedes, turnips etc.) or Cucurbit family (pumpkins, zucchini, squashes etc). For these plants, only allow one particular variety to flower at a time.
F1 selections (noted on seed packets) may not come true to type, but most vegetables are fairly stable and if there is variation, you can select from the more vigorous or outstanding plants.
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There are a whole range of vegetables and flowering annuals that can simply be left to reseed, though I do save a few seed of these varieties as well, just in case we have a bad year. In my subtropical garden, basella (Malabar spinach), snake beans, coriander, dill, mustard greens, parsley, radish, salad rocket, wild rocket, sorrel and cherry tomatoes are all reliable reseeders, however in other climates different plants will thrive and self-seed naturally.