BASIC SEEDSAVING FOR BEGINNERS
These sheets are designed to be a very basic introduction to seedsaving. Hopefully they should help you to grow good quality pure seed that will grow true to type for year after year. Seedsaving is easy; people have done it for thousands of years, in the process breeding all of the wonderful vegetables that we eat today. Only in the last century has it been taken over by professionals. With a little care you and
all your neighbours can grow better seed than you could ever buy; ideal for your own conditions, with better germination, and growing stronger, healthier plants.
If these sheets encourage you to develop your seedsaving further, try & get hold of one of the books listed at the end, which will cover all of the species not listed here & give you fuller instructions for everything.
Happy seedsaving! Kate & Ben (www.realseeds.co.uk)
Broad beans will cross with other varieties that are growing nearby. So if you want to keep your variety pure, you need to isolate them in some way. Theoretically you should aim for at least half a mile between varieties. In practice, in a built up area, fences, trees and houses will all reduce insect flight. This means you should have minimal crossing even with beans much closer than half a mile so long as none of your immediate neighbours are growing different varieties of bean.
In an open situation like an allotment, you can physically isolate plants. Broad bean pollen is transferred by insects working the flowers, but the plants will also self pollinate, so if you can exclude insects at flowering time, say by a covering of fleece, your seed crop will be pure.
The simplest method of all, if you are growing a relatively large number of beans and you are not concerned about achieving 100% purity (eg just for your own use), is to mark and save seed from several plants in the middle of a block of beans. Insects are relatively unlikely to come from a neighbouring patch straight to the middle of your patch, tending to work the outside flowers first. So by the time they reach your seed beans, the amount of ‘foreign’ pollen remaining should be small. Always keep seed of strong, healthy plants and get rid of any that are not typical of the variety ideally before they flower.
Let your seed beans mature and dry on the bush. The pods will turn dark drown, dry & wrinkled. Then pick and shell them out. Check that they are really dry by biting on them. If your teeth leave a dent, dry them further in a warm (not hot) place with a good flow of air. Broad bean seeds should keep for several years, so there is no need to grow plants for seed every year.
French and runner beans
It is important to grow some bean plants specifically for seed, rather than simply collecting the left-over pods at the end of the season. The plants should be good strong specimens, and any that are less healthy looking or not true to type for the variety should not be used for seed production.
French beans are self-pollinating, mostly before the flowers open. Despite this, they can be crossed by insects with other varieties nearby. The extent of crossing varies by area. If you are just saving seed for your own use, grow your seed crop of french beans at least 6 feet away from any other variety (12 feet if possible), and you are unlikely to have a significant problem with crossing in the UK.
Runner bean flowers need to be ‘tripped’ by wind or insects before the beans set, and are much more likely to cross with other varieties grown nearby than french beans. Ideally, to be sure that no crossing takes place, seed crops of runner bean should be at least 1/2 a mile away from any other varieties of runner bean. Bear in mind, though, that buildings, trees, and other barriers will limit insect flight patterns, and if you are gardening in a town or built up area, you are likely to have relatively little problems with crossing unless your immediate neighbours are also growing runner beans. If they are – or on an open site such as an allotment – your only answer may be to try to persuade your neighbours to grow the same type of runner.
To collect the seeds, allow the pods to mature fully on the plant until they start to yellow and dry out. In wet weather, collect the pods individually as they get to this stage. Then spread out somewhere out of the rain with a good airflow until the pods are fully dry and brittle. Once they are dry, shell out the beans and dry further out of the pods. The beans should be dry enough that they break when you bite on them, rather than leaving a dent. Store in an airtight container. If they are well dried, and stored in a cool dark place, the beans will last around 3 years.
If you have problems with weevils eating your seeds, put the sealed container in the freezer for a week immediately after drying the beans; this will kill any insect eggs before they hatch. When you take them out, let the container come up to room temperature before opening it, otherwise the beans will absorb moisture from the air.
Peas are almost entirely self pollinating, only very occasionally crossing with other plants. Set aside a section of row that is entirely for seed production, and make sure you sow at a time that will avoid pea moth To avoid physical mixing up of the seeds, separate different varieties of pea with another crop. Check the row from time to time as the peas grow, and pull up any plants that are weak or not true to type.
Let the peas mature until the pods are brown and the seeds start to rattle. If the weather is very bad, pull up the whole plants and bring inside (for example hung upside down from the shed roof) once the pods start to wither, to ripen and dry further. Once the pods are really dry, shell the peas out. Dry the shelled peas further in a warm (but not hot) place, label with the variety and date, and store.
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