Hybrid Varieties and Saving Seed
Although most horticulturists and plant breeders do not recommend
home gardeners grow their own seed, it's a definite fact that
seeds of many vegetables grown under garden conditions will
generally prove satisfactory for later planting.
Raising and saving seed is obviously not for everyone. The
gardener whose only aim is to grow a few backyard vegetables
is certainly not interested. That gardener, to whom the height
of adventure is trying a new variety, will certainly back away.
But the avid gardener who enjoys a challenge, who likes to try
something different, who wonders about the "why" of
how plants gorw-well, this person should probably try raising
seed! There will be failures, problems and disappointments,
but these will only make successes that much sweeter.
Gardeners will face discouraging arguments about raising their
own seed, both in what they read and from conversations with
other gardeners and horticulturists. These precautions and arguments
should be heeded and close attention paid to some of the obvious
pitfalls, such as:
First, if you save seed from hybrid vegetables, realize they
won't produce exactly true in the next generation. This is indeed
a fact. To understand this completely, you must understand what
an "F" hybrid is. The simplest way to define an F1
hybrid is to take an example. Let us say a plant breeder observes
a particularly good habit in a plant, but with poor flower color
and in another plant of the same type, he sees good color but
poor habit. The best plant of each type is then taken and self-pollinated
(in isolation) each year and, each year, the seed is re-sown.
Eventually, every time the seed is sown the same identical plants
will appear. When they do, this is known as a 'pure line.'
If the breeder now takes the pure line of each of the two
plants he originally selected and cross pollinates the two by
hand, the result is known as an F1 hybrid. Plants are grown
from the seed produced and the result of this cross pollination
should have a good habit and good color.
This is the simplest form of hybridization; there are complications,
of course. A completely pure line can sometimes take seven or
eight years to achieve. Sometimes, a pure line is made up of
several previous crossings to begin to build in desirable features
and grown on until it is true before use in hybridization.
To summarize, an F1 hybrid is the result of crossing two pure
lines to achieve the desired result. This seems a lot of trouble
to go to but there are definite advantages. Scientific and accurate
breeding programs have made it possible not only to bring out
the outstanding qualities of the parent plants, but in most
cases. these qualities have been enhanced and new desirable
characteristics added to the resultant hybrid plants. In addition
to qualities like good vigor, trueness to type, heavy yields
and high uniformity which hybrid plants enjoy, other characteristics
such as earliness, disease resistance and good holding ability
have been incorporated into most F1 hybrids. Uniform plant habit
and maturity, coupled with uniformity in shape or size have
made hybrid vegetables extremely suitable for mechanical harvesting.
We can't expect to get all these advantages for nothing. Because
creating F1 hybrids involves many years of preparation to create
pure lines and these pure lines have to be constantly maintained
so that the F1 seed can be harvested each year, the seed is
more expensive. The problem is compounded because to ensure
that no self-pollination takes place, all the hybridizing of
the two pure lines sometimes has to be done by hand. So you
often have to pay more for your seed or get fewer in a packet.
Seed is often collected by hand too to ensure that each plant
is as productive as possible.
It is not only the gardeners who benefit, there are advantages
for the plant breeders too. With ordinary varieties anyone can
grow them and collect the seed which can then be re-sown in
the garden or, on a larger scale, sold. So a plant breeder who
puts a lot of work into creating a variety that is not an F1
hybrid can soon find someone else selling it and getting a share
of the financial reward. But seed collected from an F1 hybrid
will not produce plants the same as those from which it is collected.
Only by crossing the pure lines can the variety be made - and
only the original breeder has the necessary pure lines. However,
there are many open?pollinated varieties of vegetables that
were growing successfully long before the hybrids came along
and which can be duplicated by saving seed.
Second, it is difficult for the home gardener to isolate varieties
and strains to avoid unwanted cross?pollination. Cross-pollination
can be a major problem if the gardener works in the midst of
many other gardens where he has no control over what is being
grown around him.
Unwanted cross?pollination and faulty selection of parent plants
result in the gradual deterioration or "running out"
of the seed. If you still want to try your hand at growing some
seed at home, then ordinary cultural practices necessary for
the production of good quality home-grown vegetables are usually
adequate for seed production. In fact, the seed saved are by-products
of the vegetables planted for table use.
In the case of seed saving, a part of the row or maybe a few
plants in the row are tagged as those to be allowed to produce
seed. The vegetables of designated plants will be allowed to
remain until mature on the plant.
Extreme care should be taken to prevent mixing of varieties.
For example, if you want to save squash seed, then plant only
one type of squash in your garden. You should also realize that
there are some vegetables that are not valuable or practical
for saving seed such as carrots, beets, radishes and mustard.
Following are some simple directions on how to save seed from
some of the most commonly grown garden vegetables:
BEANS (all kinds) - Allow the seed to thoroughly mature on
the plant, usually indicated by size of the seed in the pod
or by the color of the pod. Pull the entire plant early in the
morning and place it in the shade to dry out. This will prevent
the pods from splitting open and the beans from shattering.
CUCUMBERS - Cross pollination occurs in cucumbers. This means
pollen is transferred from a plant of one variety to a plant
of another variety. This is done by insects. Although it does
not affect the fruit borne this season, if you save the seed
and plant them next year, the plants that come from these seeds
will be different. So will the fruit. So, if you want to save
cucumber seed, plant only one variety. Select strong, healthy
cucumber plants and well?formed fruits. Let the fruits hang
on the vine until ripe (skin becomes yellowish and hard). Then,
handle like the process for tomatoes as described later in this
EGGPLANT - When the eggplant fruit has obtained maximum size
and shows some evidence of browning and shriveling, it is ready
to be harvested for seed. Split the eggplant open, remove the
seed and wash thoroughly to remove all pulp. Spread out in the
sun to dry quickly as moist seed will begin to germinate overnight
if left in a damp condition. Store in a cool, dry place.
OKRA - Okra pods should be left on the stalk until brown and
well matured. Remove the pods and place them in the shade until
thoroughly dried. Although the seed may be removed from the
pod, it is generally best to store them in the pod until ready
for planting at which time the pods may be split open and the
seed removed. Pods harvested too green will not store well and
are likely to split, shattering the seed.
PEPPERS - Pepper should be allowed to ripen until they become
red. Cut the pepper pod in half and scrape the seed from a cavity
onto a piece of paper. Spread out the seed and dry thoroughly
before placing in a storage container.
SOUTHERN PEAS - Southern peas should be left on the plant
until thoroughly matured, usually indicated by a browning of
the pods. The pods should be picked, spread out in a dry area
and cured for a week or two, then shelled.
SQUASH - If you want to save seed from squash, grow only one
variety in the garden. When the outer covering of the squash
has become hardened, the seed are generally mature. Split the
squash fruit open, scoop out the seed and wash until all pulp
is removed. Spread out on newspaper to dry.
TOMATOES - Allow the tomato fruit to thoroughly ripen on the
vine. Cut the tomatoes open and remove the seed by squeezing
or spooning out the pulp with seeds into a non?metal container
such as a drinking glass or jar. Set the container aside for
three to four days. The pulp and seed covering will ferment
so that the seeds can be washed clean with a directed spray
of water into the fermented solution. The clean, viable seeds
will drop to the bottom of the solution, and you can pur off
the sediment. Several rinsings may be necessary. Then, spread
the tomato seed out on a cloth or paper towel to dry. After
seed are dry, package, label and date for storage in a cool
(refrigerator), dry location.
Who knows--maybe you will produce a super vegetable which
will prevent world starvation!