Join Heidi Aufdermaur, UC Master Gardener and experienced Seed Saver for this class and learn:
- What types of seeds to save and the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds.
- How flowers are pollinated and how seeds develop.
- How far apart to plant varieties of vegetables to ensure seed purity.
- How to save seeds and how long saved seeds last.
Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Time: 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Link: you'll be sent a link to log in with before the class. Please register at least one hour before the class.
This free class will be available the following week on our YouTube Channel at http://ucanr.edu/youtube/ucmgstanislaus Subscribe to our channel to be notified when the class has been posted.
Heidi Aufdermaur has been a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in Stanislaus County since 2019./h3>/h3>
- Seeds and plants saved become acclimated to our environment, climate
- There is a greater variety of vegetables to grow
- There may be more genetic diversity when growing old-time veggies
- It is can be cost effective due to higher seed prices
Hybrids vs. Heirlooms
There are two major types of seeds: Hybrid and Heirloom seeds
- Hybrid seeds have been cross pollinated from two different varieties in the same plant species. They are crossed to produce seeds that carry desired characteristics or appearances.
- Seeds saved from hybrid plants will revert back to their parent plants.
- Heirloom Seeds are non-Hybrid, and open pollinated.
- Heirloom Seeds are usually more than fifty years old and have been passed down from generation to generation
- If you plant an Heirloom seed that you have saved from an Heirloom plant, it will grow true to the parent plant.
Spacing plants to prevent cross-pollination
How long do seeds last?
This is dependent on the type of seed, but also on how they are taken care of after you save them. To ensure saved seeds will sprout in the future, store them in a cool, dry place away from moisture, heat, and light.
The seed is the mature bean. Allow the bean pod to dry on the vine. If growing more than one variety, isolate by at least 20 feet.
- Harvest the dried bean pods and place in a paper bag.
- Dry for a week or more before separating the bean from its pod.
- Grow and harvest from at least 10 plants of the same variety for diversity.
- Seeds can last up to 4 years.
Allow several fruits from at least 10 plants to ripen far past the edible stage. The skin will become a dark yellow or yellowish-brown color. If growing more than one variety, isolate by at least by 50 feet.
- Mash the pulp by hand as best as you can. The seeds are hard, smooth and plump and won't damage easily.
- Toss seeds and pulp into a bucket of water and stir until pulp separates from the seeds. Seeds will sink.
- Rinse until the water comes out clear. Pour seeds through a screen, spread them in a thin layer and dry for about 3 weeks.
- Seeds can last 3-6 years
- After harvest, store garlic at room temperature to prevent premature sprouting.
- Plant from your crop every year.
Seeds are very easy to save. Allow a dozen plants to grow, unharvested, through the spring and summer. They will “bolt” (send up seed heads). Isolate by 20 feet if growing more than one variety. Once the seed heads are a yellowing-tan color and very dry, they are ready to save.
- Cut at the stem and place in a paper bag. Once dry, crush the heads and sift to separate the seeds from the chaff.
- Harvest from at least 10 plants of the same variety.
- Seeds can last 2-4 years.
Pods should be left on the plants until fully mature. Okra is self-pollinating but will cross via bees if two varieties are planted near each other. Plant one variety to ensure purity.
- Pick just as the seeds begin to split.
- Clip and store in paper bag for a few weeks.
- Seeds can last up to 3 years.
Peas are self-pollinating, however, keep favored plant 20 feet away if growing more than one variety.
- Allow pods to slightly dry on the vine before harvesting.
- When picked, place in a paper bag and allow to dry further for a week or two.
- Thresh them from the pod, and store in a jar or envelope.
- Seeds can last up to 5 years
- Cut open the ripe fruit, scrape out the seeds and let dry on a paper plate for a week before storing in a jar.
- Seeds can last up to 2 years.
Tomatoes are mostly self-pollinating, but to ensure purity, separate the favored plant by 10 feet. Allow the fruit to fully ripen on the stem before harvesting.
- Cut the tomato open and scoop out the seeds.
- Place the seeds in a jar of water and allow to ferment until a white mold forms on top of the water.
- During this process, cover the top of the jar with paper towel to keep flies out.
- Rinse the contents of the jar with water until it comes out clear.
- Allow seeds to settle between rinses. Good seeds will sink to the bottom each time.
- Spread seeds out on a paper plate and allow to dry for 3-4 days before storing in a paper envelope.
- Seeds can last up to 5 years.
- Watch our Tomato Seed Saving Video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTCfcpLQgw&t=1s
Hopefully, these suggestions will inspire you to begin the exciting adventure of saving your own seeds from the crops you grow. Happy Gardening!!!
Heidi Aufdermaur has been a UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardener since 2019; Heidi took all photos used in this article.
California Master Gardener Handbook.
Seeds Matter. www.seedmatters.org
The Heirloom Life Gardener. Bake Creek Heirloom Seed Company. Jere and Emilee Gettle.
By Pat Hitchcock, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
One of the pleasures of having a large, messy vegetable garden is that plants that get ignored past their useful life as an edible still have value. I've learned this slowly over time.
Bolting lettuces attract insects to their blossoms, while small birds enjoy the seeds and the fluff that accompanies the seeds. Insects and birds add activity and diversity to my vegetable patch. Even better, birds eat a lot of plant pests, and insects that visit blossoms are probably pollinating other vegetables.
Beyond that, if allowed to ripen their seed, lettuce plants self-sow. Come winter, new lettuce seedlings will sprout in pathways and among the weedy areas around my vegetable patch. Eventually I learned that I could collect seed from those bolting lettuces and save it for sowing the following season.
Lettuces grow true—that is, the seeds generally produce the same kind of lettuce as the parent plant. That's because lettuce flowers are what botanists call perfect flowers, with both female and male parts. They are self-pollinating due to the shape of the flower, which is why parent plants produce similar offspring.
Hybrid vegetables don't do this. To create hybrids, breeders cross-pollinate two related plant species or varieties to get a new plant with the best characteristics of the parents. Hybridizing yields many excellent vegetables, but the seed that hybrids produce can be wildly variable. Growing vegetables from hybrid seed is always an experiment.
Besides saving lettuce seeds, I like to save annual arugula seed. Arugula grows lushly during the cold months, but once the weather warms up, it goes to seed. It freely self-sows, but it is easy to capture the dry seed pods before they shatter and set aside a supply for sowing where I want them to grow next winter. Unlike lettuce, arugula is pollinated by insects. But because I'm not growing other similar plants in my garden, insects can't mix up the pollen, so my arugula seeds produce plants that resemble the parents.
Another cool-season vegetable that I like to grow is baby bok choy. I made a late planting of this vegetable in April, but we had warm weather that month and it bolted. I consulted The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough about how to save the seeds. Bok choy is in the mustard family, and several plants in that family grow and bloom abundantly in Napa Valley. However, it seemed unlikely that anything else in my yard or nearby would cross with the baby bok choy.
I dug up the plants, set them upside down on a fence and hoped for the best. A week later the plants were dry with seed pods intact and I harvested them. Then it occurred to me to check to see if the original seed came from hybrid or open-pollinated plants. I still had the seed packet, but unfortunately the seed was a hybrid type. Guess I'll buy my baby bok choy seed for next year.
Meanwhile the peas are finishing their production and some of the pods have gotten large and tough. Should I save some seed from those? Peas (and their bean cousins) have perfect flowers that self-pollinate, so usually you can save the seeds. But did I start with hybrid or open-pollinated types?
While the seed packets did not indicate whether they were hybrids, the seed company's website did. All of my peas are open-pollinated types. So, if I can leave the plants in the ground a while longer, I can harvest some of the mature peas as they dry and re-plant next year.
A large chard plant has been self-sowing in my vegetable patch off and on for years. I have found this green chard to be a dependable and delicious source of greens all winter. It has less trouble with aphids and leaf miners than some of the more colorful chards I have grown, and those are characteristics worth preserving.
Chard flowers are wind-pollinated, but if you have only one type of chard in bloom in your garden, the collected seed will grow true. I want to save this seed so I can plant the chard where I want it instead of having it grow in pathways. Following advice in the book, I'll wait until most of the flowers have turned brown, then remove the stalk and cure it in a dry cool place for a few more weeks.
The dilemma with seed saving is that it takes a long time for plants to produce a flowering stalk and ripen seed. In the meantime, they're taking up space that you might need for next season's vegetables. My vegetable plot is roomy enough to accommodate this process, and I take pleasure in saving money on next year's seeds as well as sharing with friends.
Workshop: Napa CountyMaster Gardeners will present a free 1-hour Library talk via Zoom on Thursday, July 1, on “Potpourri of Growing Tips and Good Practices.” Learn how to clean and store your tools, how to manage yellow jackets, and more. Register to receive the Zoom link: http://ucanr.edu/2021JulyGardenTips
Free Guided Tree Walk: Join Master Gardeners of Napa County for a tree walk in Fuller Park in Napa on Tuesday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to noon. Limited to 12 people per walk. COVID safety protocols will be followed. You will be asked health questions and asked to sign in. Face masks and social distancing are required. Register here.
Got Garden Questions? Contact our Help Desk. The team is working remotely so please submit your questions through our diagnosis form, sending any photos to email@example.com or leave a detailed message at 707- 253-4143. A Master Gardener will get back to you by phone or email.
For more information visit http://napamg.ucanr.edu or find us on Facebook or Instagram, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Are you looking for new tomato varieties to grow this year? There are several factors to consider in making your choice.
What is the microclimate in your garden? Do you live in one of the cooler areas of Napa Valley, such as American Canyon or Carneros? How much sun does your garden get? Do you want to grow tomatoes for cooking and preserving, or do you primarily want tomatoes to eat fresh? Is your garden small, with room for only one or two tomato plants?
Consider also whether you want to grow hybrid or heirloom tomatoes. Many hybrids have been bred for better yield or disease resistance. Check the nursery label for the letters V, F, N, T or A. If present, these symbols indicate that a variety is resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus or alternaria stem canker.
Heirloom and open-pollinated tomatoes are another option. These tomatoes offer a wide spectrum of tastes, colors, textures and shapes and tend to be more expensive at the grocery store. Some heirlooms are less productive than hybrids and more susceptible to disease, but many gardeners appreciate their unusual characteristics and the fact that their seeds can be saved and replanted the following year. In contrast, hybrid seeds will not produce tomato plants with the same characteristics as the mother plant.
If your climate is cool, try early-bearing varieties such as ‘Bloody Butcher', ‘Early Girl', ‘Crimson Carmello' and ‘Stupice'. These early tomatoes make good garden companions for the larger varieties, which produce fruit later. ‘Bloody Butcher' produces three- to four-inch fruits with rich flavor and a deep red color. ‘Crimson Carmello' is a tasty, extremely productive and disease-resistant hybrid from France. ‘Stupice', a Czech heirloom, is a cold-tolerant tomato rated highly for flavor.
Cherry tomatoes also tend to ripen early. They are ideal for salads and snacking, and children love them. Some more unusual open-pollinated varieties include ‘Black Cherry', ‘Blush', ‘Isis Candy' and ‘Blue Berries'. ‘Black Cherry' has the rich complex flavor that makes black tomatoes so popular. ‘Blush', is an elongated, plump cherry, is large enough to slice but small enough to eat out of hand. Last year it won the Napa County Master Gardeners' taste test for cherry tomatoes. ‘Isis Candy' is a productive bi-color cherry tomato with a spectacular yellow-gold cat's-eye starburst on the blossom end. It has a rich, fruity taste but is not sugary sweet. ‘Blue Berries' produces clusters of one- to two-ounce dark-skinned tomatoes that are high in antioxidants.
If you're a fan of large, beefy red tomatoes, consider heirlooms such as ‘Beefsteak', ‘Mortgage Lifter' and ‘Boxcar Willie'. ‘Genuwine', a new hybrid, is a cross between ‘Brandywine' and ‘Costoluto Genovese'. It is higher yielding and more productive than either parent, and with an estimated 70 days to maturity, it should produce earlier than most other beefsteaks.
Are you looking for a paste tomato for sauces and preserving? Some choice varieties include ‘Roma', ‘San Marzano', ‘Opalka' and ‘Big Mama'. The first three are heirlooms. ‘Roma' is the earliest producer and the best suited for container growing. ‘Big Mama' is a prolific hybrid.
Maybe you would like to grow tomatoes in a variety of colors. Sliced on a platter, they make a beautiful presentation. ‘Cherokee Purple' is an old favorite among the larger black tomatoes. ‘Paul Robeson' is another heirloom black type with medium-sized fruit. It won the Napa County Master Gardeners' taste test last year for standard-sized tomatoes.
One of my new dark favorites is ‘Chocolate Stripes'. This delicious, open-pollinated tomato has a mahogany skin with distinctive olive-green striping. The fruit can reach six inches in diameter.
Beyond black tomatoes, ‘Marvel Stripe' produces large yellow-orange fruits streaked with ruby red. Weighing up to two pounds, these tomatoes have a sweet, fruity taste.
Whichever varieties you choose, wait to plant until the danger of frost is past and the soil is sufficiently warm. Soil temperatures below 57ºF delay growth and leave the plants more susceptible to insect damage and disease.
Workshops: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Growing Tomatoes” on Sunday, April 10, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. The workshop will focus on techniques for a successful harvest, including soil temperature requirements; tomato types; care and fertilizing; support choices; and integrated pest management. Register with the Parks and Recreation Department at
707-944-8712 or on its web site.
The “Growing Tomatoes” workshop will repeat on Saturday, April 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. On-line registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (cash or check only).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Moving into the digital age, the Handbook's 2d Edition is now also available in e-book form. I bought the e-book a month ago. I find it quite complete and useful. Although I somewhat miss the heft of reading the “paper book”, with the digital version I can find something I'm interested with just a click…and everywhere it occurs in the Handbook. I've now loaded the Handbook on every digital device I have except for my phone…and I'm thinking about that too. It's easily readable on my inexpensive 7” tablet (Android OS), laptop (Windows 7 OS), and desktop (Windows Vista OS). For Apple owners, the description of the e-book says that it is formatted for Apple's iPad. I ordered it online from UCANR, and within a few seconds of paying for it with my credit card, I downloaded it and loaded it to my computer. With some available, free software I also loaded it onto my tablet and laptop. If this is your first e-book, you like me, will probably also need e-book reader software on your computer. Many good ones are readily available and free for whatever computer and/or operating system you are using.
Once you are into e-books, especially for gardening and horticulture, there are numerous e-books available for a wide variety of interests and cost, including free. For example, two free e-books that I've found of interest that you might also be interested in are described below:
Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers
… from Amazon… “The leading one-stop reference for commercial vegetable growers for more than 50 years Rooted in tradition, branching out to the future. For more than half a century, Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers has provided generations of commercial growers with the most timely, accessible, and useful information available on the subject…”
This handbook is definitely for the serious vegetable grower and should be a useful addition to UC publications. If you are interested and probably already an avid home vegetable gardener or maybe a “newbie” wanting even more detailed vegetable growing information, you should find this handbook of interest …and the price is right. While it is commercially available for purchase (new it is > $65), it can also be downloaded from a University of Missouri Extension web site for free without any obvious restrictions. http://extension.missouri.edu/sare/documents/KnottsHandbook2012.pdf
Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding
…from Amazon.. “With Hybrid, Noel Kingsbury reveals that even those imaginary perfect foods (..of our memories…) are themselves far from anything that could properly be called natural; rather, they represent the end of a millennia-long history of selective breeding and hybridization. Starting his story at the birth of agriculture, Kingsbury traces the history of human attempts to make plants more reliable, productive, and nutritious—a story that owes as much to accident and error as to innovation and experiment.
This e-book interested me as I've recently been following the GMO food discussions on the web. Kingsbury is a well-known landscape architect, designer, and author. This book provides a readable introduction of the history of how our foods evolved over the last thousand years… leading up to the current (and probably forever) discussions of GMO foods. The book can be obtained free from the University of Chicago Press this month (April 2015) at the following link:
This free download comes with DRM (digital rights management controls) that might cause you to have to jump through some hoops to download and read it, i.e. read the publisher's instructions closely. I believe the book is worth it. You will also have learned some interesting facets of manipulating e-book formats as well.... good training for the future...
Here's to some great e-book reading… and learning… and for free.
Contra Costa County Master Gardener