19 August 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
What am I?
You are possibility. One seed holds the miniature plant in a state of immaturity and dormancy with a protective outer covering and a food supply.
Where did I come from?
You came from a flowering plant that reproduces by joining male and female elements. You are complex, not a moss, not a horsetail - both of which are simple ancient plants, with no flowers, no fruit.
Why am I here?
You are here to make another you, but the path you take and the journeys length differ greatly from plant to plant. Some seeds are slow to create another self; some are swift, eager and opportunistic.
Where am I going?
You are proceeding from the depths of the fruit, the cone, to hospitable environs, where all your needs must be met before you become a seedling. Sometimes you will be like your parent, sometimes different, but certainly of the same family.
Summers end for many flowering plants is seed production time and a fine opportunity to gather from plants allowed to "go to seed." Seed saved from your hardiest plants with the traits you value, are likely to improve the species.
Hybrids (F1 hybrid on the seed packet) are a poor choice, for their seeds are usually sterile. Those that do reproduce may not carry their parents best qualities.
Non-hybrids (F2) cross-pollinate with kin, often gaining, sometimes losing strengths like disease resistance.
Cross-pollinators, whether by insect or air, may revert to their ancestral roots with curious results in shape, size, color and vigor. Among them are basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, melon, onion, parsley, pepper, potato, radish, spinach, squash. If you seek diversity and increased seed production, however, these are a good choice.
Begin with the most reliable - the non-hybrid, self-pollinators: beans, lettuce, peas, and tomatoes. They are so successful that I find them in the most unlikely places, emerging from the compost pile, rising among foundation shrubs.
Biennials present a twist on seed saving, with their second season debut. Over-winter biennials with a 4-inch mulch, then save the seed (delphinium, foxglove, hollyhock, pansy, parsley, Queen Anne's lace, Swiss chard, verbena) at seasons end. Save biennial root-crop seeds by sparing the best for early spring planting (carrots, leeks, onions, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga and turnips).
Choose only your healthiest plants. Check for any disease that did a little damage, as the little may easily transmit more boldly to next seasons crops.
Standard and heirloom varieties when not cross-pollinated grow true to the parent. Raise only one variety to control the cross-pollination effect; and check the neighborhood, because a community garden will certainly yield the unexpected, while the home-based plot with greater distance may not, though peppers will cross-pollinate to 500 feet, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins to a half-mile.
Wet and dry harvest
From fleshy fruits, ferment the seeds in water for two to four days to kill fungi and viruses, discarding all floating debris. Allow papery and podded seeds to remain on the flower head or in the pod until the threat of strong winds or critter feeding appears. Separate the chaff or pod from the seed but cover tiny seeding plants like dill with a paper bag. Complete the drying of both harvests on a screen or paper.
Store in dated, labeled paper envelopes, or glass jars. Freeze for two days to kill pests then keep in a cool dry place until planting.
Tip of the Week
When to prune the bearded iris? Never. Gently pull away withered, yellowed and limp foliage. Cut out diseased leaves. Use a water jet to pry away insect pests. Keep the soil clear of garden rubble. Even when dividing, it is unnecessary to prune. Still, for ease of handing, trim the fan blades to a 12-inch height.