Friday, September 2, 2011

Non Fancy Heirloom Seeds

From what I make of it, heirloom seeds are just non hybrids.
They used to be the common brand, and the hybrid were always labeled as such. Hybrid seeds won't reproduce true to genetics, if at all. If you're looking for long term, sustainable seed self production, always go for the non hybrid garden seed. Heirloom is a fancy name for that, and many times has a price tag to prove it.

Advantages of hybrid is usually earlier maturation, resistant to some fungus or disease, and availability.

I'm working with top of the mountain soil that at one time was a parking lot. Open space, full sunlight for over 10 hours, and up next to the house, this spot has been set aside for two seasons now. Every year, I pick stones out, add lots of leaves for organic material, turn the soil, use calcium (lime) to fertilize and prevent blossom end rot on tomatoes and summer squash, and rotate crops.

This year the onions, beans, tomatoes and squash did fairly well. The winter squash, namely, butternut, are sort of puny and have ripened already. Delicious peeled, diced and sauteed in a skillet. Cover and let rest til tender.
These seeds were kept from the largest butternut squash. Once completely dry, they are stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

I'll do the same with the beans, harvesting and saving seeds. Not that I need to. Next spring we will probably be able to buy seeds again. But, who knows?
I'm just practicing my skills for when I really need them.


  1. Thanks for the hints. I'll definitely try some lime next spring on my Ox Heart tomatoes. I did run into some end rot.

    BTW, OX Hearts are a heirloom breed. They are known for their meat (low seed count)and astounding taste.

  2. Heirlooms = an open pollinated strain that has a "pedigree". When crossed with another of the same strain, the next generation is true to type. It means little more than the strain has been known to be around for several decades. (There is no set time restrictions for a strain to be named an heirloom.) A trait I suppose of the "heirloom" types is that they often are known for their flavor. These older strains however are not usually known for their disease resistance, and some tend to need a bit more coddling to get going.

    Open pollinated = a stable strain where when crossed with another of the same strain.. the 2nd generation is also true to type. A strain is considered stabilized after about 7 generations that have produced true to type. Some "new" OP strains typically bring to the table disease resistances, changes in yields or growing needs, etc.

    True to type = plant, fruit, etc. characteristics exactly like the "parents".

    Hybrids = usually a 1st generation cross that is not a stable strain. GMO's fall in under as a hybrid. Hybrids by law are required to be labeled as such. While some hybrids can throw a 2nd generation like the parents.. the strain is not stabilized. More often than not the 2nd generation is an assorted combination of the various characteristics of the parents. ( example.. a jack crossed with a mare creates a mule. A stallion crossed with a jenny creates a hinny.)

    Butternut is the species c. moschata. Squash however get rather goofy when it comes to crossing with another species of squash. Squash bees... make it even more interesting as they are notorious bloom floozies. (The males sometimes don't even leave the patch.. they rest in one of the wilted flowers and chew out the next morning looking for love.)

    Beans and peas.. some of the few things not pestered by genetic bottle-necking. You can start up a whole line again from 1 plant. Seeds are dry enough when the shatter after being whacked by a hammer.

    Squash seeds are dry enough when they snap in 2 when folded in half. (If the bend.. they are still too wet.)

    Storing seeds.. air tight container (moisture control), out of light in a temperature consistent location. Seeds.. I'd store them in a jar in the basement. The fridge is not as stable as you would think (door opening, cold spots, etc.) This years zucchini and butternut in my garden are from seeds that are 15 years old.

    Seed weevils are the one case where a cold treatment is needed. Seeds MUST be dry enough.. then into an air tight container.. put in the freezer for a few weeks. When you take them out of the freezer.. DO NOT open the jar until the contents have come to room temperature. (Moisture from condensation could really cause trouble.)

    If you have a big seed stash.. packaging them up into smaller amounts (like what you'd use in a season, plus a few extra) helps a lot.

    Sorry... shutting up now. :x

  3. Thanks Anne, for that wealth of information. I know if you're planting different varieties of squash to put them on opposite sides of a garden. If they manage to cross polinate and you use those seeds, the end result can taste like JUNK, wasted season.
    I'm just getting this going, so my seed stash is tiny. Last year I used the refrigerator and they germinated fine this season.

    I didn't know that about the stablization of seeds. Seems like genetics in plants and animals would be similar, all within the same species, but a few differences in shape and size.
    Good information, thanks for sharing!

  4. Matt, the lime is like a 40 pound bag for under $5, it also helps when the summer squash shows end rot. I read thats a sign of calcium definency too. When I gave them a dose of lime, it went away.

    Next season I have to do something about the vine borers and these dam chiggers! Everytime I go to pick, I get chiggers. I want to go organic, and something I can make-do myself, but we're nearing the insanity stage!

    Any help on that, Anne?

  5. Gah.. had a response but probably was too long lol.

    Blossom end rot occurs with plant stress. It will correct itself in time as the plants lay out more roots.. even if you don't add anything at all. It has to do with weakening of the cell wall.. which translates into those soft spots at the blossom end.

    Calcium is a needed requirement.. but lime doesn't always do the trick. It depends on location and what type of soil you have. A slow release type addition of calcium.. that you never have to worry about adding too much.. are eggshells. Primarily calcium carbonate, they slowly dissolve in acidic conditions. I get lots of eggshells and coffee grounds from a local family restaurant. Big chains often have regulations prohibiting this.. so small family owned joints are awesome for getting compost materials.. as well as very large glass containers and food grade plastic buckets.

    Typical veggie plants like neutral to slightly acidic soils. (So while lime works in your area.. an arid locaton has very alkaline soils.. and lime would be a very bad choice! "Wet" areas, high rainfall,.. the clay tends to be more acidic.. and also can tend to hold sodium. Lime will displace sodium. Sodium can come in from various sources.. some manures and animal urine in particular.)

    Vine borers.. are bothersome. Keeping track in a journal when they come out is helpful because timing is often a major factor when going organic. Check under leaves for eggs, check base of plants for larvae entry.. plant less susceptible strains (some have tougher stems and seem to resist them.) I've used trap crops (1st planting essentially gets ripped out with transplants started later to fill the spot).. floating row covers if that is an option.

    Chiggers.. one of the few things we didn't get nailed with -knock on wood- just tons of ticks. Clearing the area (mowing.. bagging clippings, trimming shrubs) helps. Diatomaceous earth may makes things uncomfortable for them.. but there isn't much more by way of organic than that. Clearing the garden area so they don't have a place to hide. Mulch and chiggers are a bad combo. At the end of the season.. clear out the garden. You can bury compost materials. I'm not sure if the black plastic smothering trick would help. (Black plastic tarp + sun.. helps heat the soil and basically roast the location. good for clearing out a new garden area.. but honestly.. I try to avoid using plastic when possible.. and hate the thought of it breaking down in a location I want to grow what we eat.)

  6. Sorry.. wish I was better at writing short responses. :/

  7. LOL, Anne, I love it, no problem :D