Vegetables and Fruit forum: keeping heirloom seeds

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springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
Feb 13, 2014 5:58 AM CST
I would like to order some heirloom seeds for peas, pumpkins, squash, ect.
My question is, if I order several varieties of the same kind, will they cross pollinate and then when I save my seed for next year, it will not grow the exact same plant? I hope that makes sense.
Name: Arlene
Grantville, GA (Zone 8a)
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abhege
Feb 13, 2014 6:36 AM CST
Yes, you'll have a new variety! But usually you can't tell that much difference.
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Feb 13, 2014 7:43 AM CST
Yes, they'll cross-pollinate. nodding
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Feb 13, 2014 3:12 PM CST
If you have a garden in your front yard, and another bed in your back yard, they won't cross VERY much, but even 20% cross-pollination means that you can't really PRESERVE the heirloom variety.

You can still use saved seeds that are "slightly cross-pollinated" by planting them thicker, and then cutting down "rogues" once they show themselves to be noticeably different from the heirloom variety. After all, if 80% of the plants were NOT cross-pollinated, you will have plenty of "the real thing" for the first few years.

But the population of saved seeds will lose and acquire characteristics from other strains until it is a mixture, adapted to your conditions, and selected by your "roguing" preferences. Of course you can start over every few years with one new packet of the "pure" heirloom. Stored dry, cool and dark, the first packet could last 5-10 or more years.

Some people take the trouble to "bag and daub" a few branches of a favorite variety. An organza bag or tulle or floating row cover material can be made insect-proof. It has to be an insect-pollinated, not wind-pollinated variety. They have to hand-pollinate those branches, but it does get them enough saved seeds that are 100% not-cross-pollinated to carry on a line.


If you cover an entire, small seed bed tightly with floating row covers (so that pollinators can't get in), the seed bed won't be cross-pollinated unless the species is pollinated by wind. However, it also won;t be pollinated at all, unless you do it by hand.

I read one suggestion where the seed bed was covered tightly 6 days out of 7. Once per week (or twice per week), he would go cover every OTHER plant tightly. Then, after nightfall when all pollinators were (supposedly) asleep, he would go out and uncover the seed crop. The next morning, insects would find the seed crop and pollinate it, but not be able to reach the pollen from other plants of the same species.

I don't know for sure whether that would work, and it seems like a lot of work!

Or you might do a rotating system, where one year you only grow one kind of pea, and one kind of pumpkin. Save lots of seed from them that year. Grow as many kinds of squash that year as you please.

Next year grow just one kind of squash and one different kind of pea, saving seeds from them.

The third year, grow all kinds of saved seeds of several varieties, but maybe not collect any seeds that year.

I think you could save enough seed from one variety to grow it out for 3-5 years, so you could maintain an heirloom line by growing it (and only it) every third, fourth, or fifth year. Store the seeds very dry so they last as long as possible.

There is an idea catching on called "seed libraries". Some group accepts donations of seeds and then "loans" them out to gardeners who will grow them out in isolation from other varieties of that species. At the end of the year, the gardeners "return" more seed than they "borrowed".

There is usually some genetic drift or selection when a line is propagated by hobbyists for many years in one location. These "seed libraries" call that an advantage because the original strain becomes selected for and adapted for that locality. Climate, soil, daylength, insect pests and soil diseases all vary from region to re4gion and county tom county. After 5 or ten years growing in one area, unintentional genetic drift selects for gene combinations best suited to that area. Natural variation existing in the original seed sample recombines and the best-adapted traits gradually become a larger % of the seed.

Global Seed Library Locator Map (mostly USA and Europe)
http://www.seedlibrarian.com/

Olympia WA Seed Exchange
http://www.olympiaseedexchange.org/

King County Seed Lending Library
http://kingcoseed.org/
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Feb 13, 2014 3:39 PM CST
Here's a thread about saving heirloom tomato seeds.

The thread "Growing heirloom tomatoes & saving seeds" in Heirlooms forum

Both tomatoes and lettuce are naturally "mostly-self-pollinated". Usually they have pollinated themselves before the flowers open enough for bees to get at them. So you can maintain "mostly pure" heirloom lines side by side.

Not pure enough to sell the seeds or trade them without a warning, but pure enough to grow for yourself and only need to "rogue out" 5 - 15% of the plants.
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Feb 13, 2014 4:21 PM CST
well at any rate, whatever becomes of them at least it will be natural frankenfood lol

I think I will just order seeds and plant whatever and not worry about it then. I don't care so much if they do cross pollinate, but I was concerned that the "new" variety may not produce as much food as the original variety. Will it affect the amount or quality of the produce much?
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Feb 13, 2014 5:47 PM CST
I'm going to go way, way out on a limb and guess that heirloom vegetables don't vary as much as some heirloom flowers.

If some heirloom pea or pumpkin has a wildly unusual feature, like extreme size or leafless vines, you might lose that unusual feature in the 20% to 60% of seeds that are cross-pollinated.

But if the heirloom veggie is pretty normal, my guess is that most crosses will be at least half-way like the heirloom parent.

I know that when I saved seeds from some giant HYBRID zinnias with weird flower shapes, grown amongst normal zinnias, the "giant" and "weird" traits disappeared in the crosses, as if they were recessive traits, or ONLY appeared when certain rare combinations of genes were contrived.

But I am just guessing. "A pea is a pea" and the traits are mostly matters of degree.

If some heirloom pumpkin had something unusual like the "Moon and Stars" coloring or a very unusual shape, you might lose that.

Maybe squashes are wildly variable. I've never grown them.

Remember, those were mostly guesses.


>> the "new" variety may not produce as much food as the original variety.

If you were saving seeds from modern F1 hybrid varieties, I would agree. Some of those are highly optimized for yield, and losing the exact F1 combination would probably lose you the unusual yield that someone had carefully bred for (like a greyhound or thoroughbred racehorse). Saving seeds from F1 hybrids or their outcrosses is a waste unless you like experimenting.

But heirlooms are not F1 hybrids. They are more like stable workhorses and I would not expect crosses among most heirloom vegetables to drop the yield by much. You might even get "heterosis" where out-crossing can enhance vigor for a few generations.

Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Feb 13, 2014 9:39 PM CST
Crossbred pumpkins and summer squash could easily be pretty much uneatable.
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Feb 14, 2014 7:01 AM CST
Thank you Rick, yes I think too that a pea is a pea and I see what you mean about probably not getting much difference in quality for some things. I don't plan on doing any hybrid seeds at this time, but I do usually buy tomato and pepper plants which are probably hybrids. I don't care I guess because I won't save their seeds anyway. I am terrible with seeds, so I just stick with things I can't go wrong with. A pumpkin will grow just because it wants to, you don't have to do anything hardly!
There are wildly different types of pumpkins and squashes so I can see Rita, where they may turn out to be who knows what. I would think if both kinds were eatable and crossed that the resulting kind would be eatable also. I use the word eatable, (which surprisingly my spell check thingy is accepting as a word?), instead of edible, because of course you CAN eat them-they won't make you ill- but the fruit or rind is so hard or the texture yucky and it wouldn't BE edible, right... Well the seeds are not too pricey and most have a good yield for the money so maybe I'll just buy fresh seed on those each time I need to plant them. Rick, there are quite a few seeds in the pack and no way I'd plant them all at once, they'd probably root up through my foundation and strangle me lol, especially pumpkins. I imagine a package doing 3 years probably. I have only planted garden in the spring, but I wonder if a fall crop of squash would do any good, planted say the end of August? I think pumpkins would not do well as a fall crop because they take longer to mature? i guess it might depend on the variety.
Thanks for your thoughts!
Name: Franklin Troiso
Rutland, MA (Zone 5b)
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herbie43
Feb 14, 2014 7:32 AM CST
Try this - Take a piece of old stocking and wrap it around the flower of the tomato plant and make it into a sort of cocoon and tie it at the bottom. When the tomato starts to grow take it off and use that tomato for your seeds.

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frank
Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Feb 14, 2014 10:39 AM CST
Not if it is a hybrid type tomato. Will not come true. Needs to be an heirloom or OP variety.
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Feb 14, 2014 12:14 PM CST
What is an OP variety?
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Feb 14, 2014 12:18 PM CST
Open pollinated.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Feb 14, 2014 12:19 PM CST
oh duh, ok Smiling
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Feb 14, 2014 1:03 PM CST
Some people use "OP" to mean a batch of seeds that were produced by letting them cross-pollinate freely with unspecified other nearby plants. I like Joseph's term for that: "Promiscuous Pollination".

I prefer the way you're using it: a strain that has been inbred enough to "come true" when pollinated with pollen from the same variety of plants.

http://garden.org/ideas/view/RickCorey/1279/OP-vs-OP/

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