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Breeding Your Own Squash (page 3 of 6)

by Carol Deppe

How to Save Your Own Seed

How to Save Your Own Seed
Save your own seeds and you'll have many more to plant next spring

You can save seed from any standard or heirloom variety. You cannot however, save seed from F1 hybrid varieties, because they don't breed true (offspring will not necessarily resemble the parents).

Selection. The first technique for successful hand pollination and seed saving is selection. This is the most basic plant breeding method. To select is to choose which genes and characteristics to perpetuate. We do it by saving seed from the best plants. Superior plants are more likely to produce superior offspring. Which are best? How do we decide? Here are some basic guidelines to consider when planning your garden with seed saving in mind.

Grow several plants of any variety you plan to save seed from. There are two reasons. First, if you have only one or two plants, it may be difficult or even impossible to find a female flower and a male flower at the right stage for hand-pollinating simultaneously. With three or more plants, it's usually easy. Second, with several plants, you can save seed from the best. With just one or two plants, you end up having to save from all the plants, not just the best.

Plant plenty of seed if possible. I like to plant six seeds in a hill and thin to the one or two that germinate and grow most vigorously. This way, I automatically select for lines that germinate and grow well under my growing conditions.

Examine the plants before you start hand pollination. Don't use male or female buds from plants that are small, stunted, off-type, or otherwise obviously inferior. Remember that both parents (the pollen-donating male plant and the bud-carrying female one) matter.

Keep a record of which plants the male and female flowers for different hand pollinations come from. Often individual plants of a single variety are different enough to matter. In addition, varieties sometimes contain a few off-types. If one plant turns out to be something other than what it should have been, you will want to know, for example, which hand pollination it donated the pollen for.

Both self- and cross-pollinations have advantages. That is, you can use pollen from the same plant or a different plant. Self-pollinating means a loss of genetic heterogeneity in the next generation, which is an advantage if the individual plant turns out to be exceptionally good. Its seed will produce plants that are more uniform and more like their superior parent than the seed you started with. On the other hand, pollinating a female flower with pollen from a different plant of the same variety does a better job of maintaining all the genetic variability present in the variety so that it is there for you to select from in the future. Some species and varieties lose vigor if they are inbred (self-pollinated generation after generation), a phenomenon called--inbreeding depression. But it doesn't seriously affect squashes and pumpkins.

The second stage of selection comes at the end of the season, when the fruits are mature or nearly mature, but before harvest. Evaluate the individual plants, and make notes about early maturity, yield, and other important characteristics. It is important to consider the whole plant, not just the individual fruit. Don't be fooled into being impressed by the biggest fruit, for example, if the plant had only one fruit but is supposed to have several.

The proof is in the eating. The final stage of evaluation comes when you eat the fruits. I make notes about flavor (if different from what I expect), and how thick the flesh is.

If I end up with many hand pollinations that seem equivalent, I may pool the cleaned seed. Often, however, my various records indicate that one hand-pollinated fruit represents the "best" parents. I set that seed aside for planting the next year.

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