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Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

Breeding Your Own Squash

by Carol Deppe

For fun, you can create and name your own pumpkin variety

The reasons to save your own seed are myriad and range from the practical to the profound. You can fine-tune established varieties; you can also take advantage of genetic accidents to create new varieties if you know how to save seed. Last year, for example, I saw one squash plant in perhaps a hundred that was resistant to powdery mildew. That fungal disease usually comes after the first fall rains and ends the growing season in my region. Resistant varieties could be very useful, so I saved seeds from the resistant plant. Perhaps I can use it to develop new powdery mildew-resistant varieties. Many new varieties got their start when some gardener or farmer simply noticed something that was different and special--and saved the seed. Depending on your preferences and predilections, seed saving can serve many other purposes.

Reasons to Save Seed

To grow a unique variety, you often have to get seed when and where it's available, then maintain the variety yourself. If you know how to save seed, you'll always have it.

Many spectacularly flavorful, unique varieties of pumpkin and squash are not readily available commercially, either as fruits or seed. For example, one of my favorite winter squashes is 'Blue Banana'. This squash has a flavor so unlike that of other squashes that it's like an entirely different vegetable. However, the seed is available from only one seed company, Seeds Blum, and from a few members of the Seed Savers Exchange.

Saving your own seed also means independence. It lets you make your own choices rather than being subject to random food fads or other people's choices and preferences.

You can plant what, when, and how you like. I like to produce my own seed for varieties that are readily available commercially. My own seed is usually bigger, fatter, and more vigorous. I can plant it earlier than commercial seed. I also have much more of it, so I don't have to skimp. I can sow generously and then thin, instead of sowing thinly, then having gaps that have to be replanted later and less optimally. And with my own seed, the price is always right.

When you save seed, you become a plant breeder. You choose which characteristics to perpetuate. You select for characteristics that are important to you, such as plants that suit your taste preferences, growing conditions, and region. After you have saved seed of a variety for a few years, you'll have a variety that is somewhat different from anyone else's, and usually better adapted to your growing conditions.

When you save seed you deepen your relationship with plants and gardening. Gardeners care about their direct relationship with soil, plants, and food. To grow plants from seed bought from others is one level of relationship. To save seed to grow new plants goes to a deeper level. It is fulfillment and continuity--plants and people maintaining each other, nurturing each other--in a continuous cycle.

Saving seeds of squash and pumpkin is unusually easy. The flowers are big, dramatic, and easy to handle. Hand pollination is fast and simple. And from each hand-pollinated fruit you get lots of seeds--hundreds of them, sometimes several ounces' worth.

To become an expert squash and pumpkin seed saver, you have to know three basic techniques: selection, hand pollination, and seed processing.

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