Humans have played an intricate part in hybridization of seeds since the stone age. I’m NOT talking GMO here, I’m discussing good old fashioned cross pollination! Arguably, the earliest known agricultural site is a discovery of several barley grain pits along the Jordan Valley in Israel. There is archeological proof that nearly 11,000 years ago, the ancient peoples of Israel collected the grain from wild grown plants in the near-by cliffs and then brought the seeds into the valley to be cultivated en masse for consumption.
We have many ancient civilizations to thank for much of the food we consume today, and thank goodness! As long as 10,000 years ago, bananas, peaches, potatoes, watermelon, corn, avocado, and coffee were tiny, nearly inedible fruits, and some, like almonds, even contained cyanide! Strawberries are a more recent manmade fruit, having been crossed by a French explorer in the 1750’s between a fruit he found in Chile and another berry he found in America!
However, it doesn’t take a millennia to create vegetables and fruit more suited to our wishes. Be it a more cold tolerant, sweeter, or disease resistant quality we are looking for, we can produce superior fruit and vegetables in just a few years. (The deep green color was the focus of kiwis in hybridization in the 1950’s. Original kiwis were pale green, yellow and even pink!)
I collect seeds only from the strongest vegetables or yummiest. I focus on size, flavor, and disease resistance. For example, I grew Wade’s Giant Corn this year. The stalks are super tall and the cobs are massive, nearly 12 inches long! However, several crashed down during the recent wind storm because of weak stems. Others produced ears so big they cracked off from the plant before they were even ripe. So the seeds I’ll be collecting will be from the ones that remain standing and produced the strongest stems. Naturally, over time my Wade’s Giant Corn will be a stronger variety than the original parent plant.
Allow your favorite vegetable to produce seeds. Fertilizer and proper growing will ensure larger production of seeds. Seeds in pods like peas, radish, and bok choy, can be pulled when the pods are tan and starting to dry. This can also be done with peppers. Hang the entire plant to dry the rest of the way upside down in a dark dry area, like a garage or shed. Seeds will be ready to harvest when the plant is brittle. Place pods into a tray and crush them until the pods have released the seed. Give the tray a little shake and most of the seeds will settle to the bottom. Blow away the dry shells left on the top until the heavier seeds remain. Store seeds in jars, envelopes, or plastic bags, and be sure to label with the name of vegetable and date!
Seeds that are tiny and easily blow away, like lettuce and petunias, can be collected before they fall by placing a paper bag over seed heads that are still a bit green and tying it closed with a string. Allow the plant to dry completely before giving the bag a shake. The dry seeds will fall into your bag.
Tomatoes take a bit more work. The gel around each seed contains a chemical that prevents the seeds from sprouting too early, so drying seeds directly from a ripe tomato will result in poor germination. Squish half a tomato into a clean plastic or glass container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Place on top of your fridge and wait a week or two for white mold to form on the top. Only when the fungi forms do you know that all the gel around the seeds has decomposed enough not to affect the germination of the seed. Scoop out rotted pulp and sort out seeds with a fine strainer or cheesecloth under water. Place seeds to dry on a paper plate. (Seeds stick to paper towels, so use paper plates. Write the name of the tomato on the plate!) Once seeds are completely dry, store them in labeled envelopes.
Happy Gardening for next year!
Photo By Ayesha Firdaus