Welcome to the 2019
Ottawa Seed Library Newsletter
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Happy Canada Day Weekend!
Apologies for the late newsletter. June has been a very busy month getting the veggie garden together. It's has taken me the entire month to plant all of my vegetables. How about you?
Our spring was very cool and lasted a long time, I did plant a few vegetables on the May long weekend, normally the weekend when it is safe to plant all of your plants outside, but it was mostly my cool season plants like peas, spinach and lettuce. As the weather became warmer week by week I added more to my beds. It is possible we are approximately a month behind in our growing season. My fingers are crossed for a warm fall. While you are watching your plants take off in the heat of this weekend, have a read below and begin considering which plants will be the ones you save the seeds from to give back to the Ottawa Seed Library.
Seed Saving Mantra
As a new seed saver, there’s a critical colloquialism that ought to guide the way you think about seed saving. The saying goes “Save the best, and eat the rest.”
What does this mean? Why would I not eat my best looking tomato, my best looking lettuce heads?
It can be a frustrating maxim for a gardener used to leaving the worst food in the garden and eating the healthiest and tastiest fruits in the garden. However the thing to keep in mind is that every act of seed saving is itself plant breeding.
A common mistake by new seed savers is to use the marginal plants as the seed plants. In beans people often leave the second flush of beans on a couple plants at the end of the row. When you do this you’re going to inadvertently select the plants that produce well on the second flush (they may do well on first flush, but this would not be controlled for). With beans, favourite traits typically are large yields, early in season, easy to pick, and good tasting beans. If you save what’s left behind they may be plants that have beans that are harder to find or pick, or that have higher yields later, they even could be plants that mature later! This may not be a big deal over one generation, but over 10 generations, you may have dramatically changed the production habits of the plant!
Another example - sometimes when gardeners grow lettuce they’ll eat a few heads and save the seed from the remaining plants that turn bitter and go to seed. Sometimes these plants go to seed earlier than the rest of your plants. If you save seeds from these lettuce plants you’ll end up with lettuce that rushes to seed instead of spending time producing succulent sweet leaves! It won’t be long before you’re lettuce seed won’t even produce edible lettuce, despite all your energy saving it’s seed!
Sensing the pattern? Seed Savers should be identifying the traits they want in plants first and then eat what’s leftover. It doesn’t mean you can’t eat some of your best. Ultimately each time we save seeds we want our plant to be better than it was last season. If you save the best each year, a generation or two down the road you’re worst plants may be better than your best plants in the past!
The traits a gardener may select are diverse, and they will suit the gardners preferences. Taste is a very popular one to select for, but it can be hard to assess. Some seed savers take one bean from each plant and try to rogue out any that taste particularly poor, this is often easier to find than one’s that taste better than the rest! Others identify shapes, colours, storability, plant types (squash with bush type vs squash with vine type), earliness and more. Ultimately as a seed saver the traits you want to see pronounced in your crop are your own. The most important thing is that the “best” plants are completely up to you!
So what does save the best and eat the rest mean in a nutshell? It means that when you save a handful of plants for your own collection, don’t just save the seeds randomly, be selective, identify your favourite plants and then each year you will be better off, otherwise your plants may end up changing in ways you won’t like!
From the Ottawa Seed Library