What To Expect From Your Selected Seeds
So you have decided to save some seed from some garden plants. You can’t wait until spring to try sprouting your new seed. You have grown vegetable and flowers from seed since a child in the first grade when you planted tomato seeds in small paper cups. That part is easy right? The big question is. . . . . What can you expect from your efforts?
Some of you will believe that you will get identical plants to the parents. Some of you will believe that the plants will NOT look like or grow the same as the parent. I’m here to tell you are right!
Both of these guesses are correct. There are a couple of reasons why. I certainly don’t want to discourage you from your project at this point. Please do continue to collect your seed. It is fun and you will regret giving up on this project if you do. Besides. . . . Who cares if it doesn’t turn out perfect? Nothing in life is.
All seed that is produced no matter whether it is from cross pollination or from self pollination (covered sometime soon in another blog) will have variation from the parent to the children. Now before you get all jumpy this goes on each and every time there is sexual reproduction. Nature has ways to limit variability between generations. Now, to us it is just this variability we are concerned with today. Just how much variability will there be.
The picture of the impatiens above is the third generation of seed from the plants I bought. These impatient seedlings all have the same coloring pattern as the original. Now in this third generation I am seeing just a bit of variation in color. The original plant was colored just like this image. Some of the seedlings today seem to be from a soft pink to a medium pink color. Of course, this may have to do with me not paying attention to the same flower changing color from a young to old state. Still, this little experiment tells me that impatiens have a relatively stable genetic pattern. The stigma and pollen of an impatiens are protected by part of the small flower petal that covers them. Perhaps you never looked that closely at an impatiens or you would have realized it doesn’t show the usual filaments most flower show. This means it is relatively difficult for one of them to cross with another flower. This is important to recognize. Many other flower and vegetable flowers have this same difficult flower structure. Beans come to mind. Can you imagine the expense of labor involved if someone had to hand pollinate bean flowers so that we could enjoy a good Blue Lake green bean. We have been eating this particular variety for a good fifty years. No, because the flowers of beans are difficult to cross pollinate with other bean plants nearly all beans are produced from self pollination.
The second feature is variability from self pollination is reduced. It is much easier for the genetic DNA to normalize quickly. In other words, in just a couple of generations from a true cross between species in a genus, the variability soon stabilizes so that future generations look quite similar to each other. They are closer together than you are to your brother and sister though not as close as identical twins. That is why you are able to buy a packet of green bean seeds for just a couple of dollars and enough green beans are produced to feed a small family yet you will easily pay close to $10 for a single Wave petunia. The cost difference alone is enough proof a Wave petunia must be the result of someone purposefully cross pollinating a couple of very special parents to get the right Wave petunia. This is why you never see soy fields set up like corn fields when seed is being produced. You never hear about anyone having to spend boring hours in soy fields preparing the beans for cross pollination as a teenager. It also means that when Monsanto produces a new strain of soy bean they quickly patent the variety and rigidly control how the seed may be used. In 2013 a farmer planted some collected seed which happened to contain some patented GMO moderated seed. He was only using it for personal reasons but the Supreme Court of the US ruled in favor of Monsanto that the farmer could not even use collected seed for personal use. This was a rather harsh ruling and I expect we will hear more on this soon. Generally patented plants can be propagated for personal use. As long as the propagated plants are not used for financial gain one could in the past legally do this.
There is a second way to ensure stability between generations. That is to make sure that you only have a single cultivar growing in your garden. I love my cruciferous vegetables. The problem is that they are too closely related to each other and will through insect and wind carry pollen from one flower to another. My Kale is no longer the curly type I like so well. It crossed some years ago with a Russian variety. My kale began to take on the flatter leaf of the Russian as well as some of the purple coloring. Now you can see it must have crossed with the collard or something because there is no curl left, they are really wide. Not even any of the Russian purple color is left in my kale. I am waiting to harvest this in the fall to make some kale chips. Then I will have to re-evaluate my seed collection. I may need to buy new seed and perhaps not grow all the varieties I have been growing. If you plan to create open pollinated seed to use you should limit what and how close together related plants are to each other. Significant spacing needs are necessary to guard against accidental cross pollination.
The last word on this is that you will want to start with open pollinated or sometimes referred to as heirloom seed if you want to make sure next year’s plants will look the same as the parents. If you purchase seed advertised as a hybrid you will probably not get identical plants out of the seed you save. I know, you will be like me. Sometimes I just don’t know what will happen if I plant collected seed. Sometimes you just don’t know if the seed is heirloom or hybrid or just how stable the genetic structure is for the plant you are saving seed. I had no idea that impatiens produced stable seedlings. Yet this one did and I know because I collected the seed and planted it. I collected and planted Wave petunia seed to see what would happen when I planted it. Saved Wave petunia seed produced seedlings not even remotely like the original plant. That is how you learn. These little guideling I have just presented are the result of some careful observations and years of trial and error. I have yet to see one site on the internet devoted to this. Seed producers just don’t want you to know. They rely on us to stay ignorant so they can pay the electric bill through the sale of their seed. No, I am afraid you will have to do some trial and error yourself on some of your favorite collected seed to know for yourself. It is fun. Don’t be frightened. I learn new things each and every year I collect seed. You will too.