New to seed saving? Alison Swanson gives advice from the allotment on how to turn this year’s bounty into next year’s crop.

So Seeds!
When the first Neanderthal got tired of hunting mammoths and instead turned his spear towards scratching furrows in the earth, saving seed became important. It was the only way of assuring food to grow the following year. Times have changed but seed saving is still worth doing today because it’s both cost effective and a lot of fun. As autumn approaches now is very good time to start. 

Easy peasy
The sees of all varieties of peas, beans and mangetouts are easy to seed. The aim is to leave the pods hanging on the plant as long as possible allowing them to swell and mature fully before drying out and hardening in the sun. Ideal pods will be a yellow brown or blackish colour with a tough, dry or papery texture. The key to success lies in gathering the pods on a dry day and ensuring the seeds are fully dry when packed because any damp or mould will reduce their viability. Where wet weather threatens it is possible to dig up the plants with the pods still attached and hang them in a greenhouse or shed to air, but be aware that mice can climb and they cannot resist peas. Well dried and properly stored seeds last many years. This was tested recently when the gift of a scruffy A4 envelope stuffed full of dried peas and dated 2014 produced a very successful crop. 

Scottish Gardener:

Squash and dry
Saving pumpkin, tomato, cucumber and squash seed is also easy. Simply pulverise the fruit, pick out the seeds, rinse and then dry them fully on a piece of kitchen paper in warmth before storing in paper envelopes. Sow these within one year if possible. Some plotters find a meat tenderising hammer, wearing a rain cape and thinking about the AGM motivates them to pulverise more effectively. Another approach is called fermentation, which is more like making gazpacho than brewing. In this case place the pulverised tomatoes, cucumbers or marrows in a bowl or bucket for three or four days, squidge this around with your hands occasionally, and then rinse the pulp off the seeds before drying as above. Seeds produced this way do store slightly longer. Some fifty years ago seed savers would add hydrochloric acid to the mix but the human race and gardeners continue to evolve so this is no longer used.

Beets and other seeds
Beetroot, turnip, spinach, broccoli and radishes all throw up flower spikes which turn to seed. In all cases collect on a dry day and only store when completely dry. Hanging the flower spikes up in a dry shed for a week or two can be helpful.  

The F word
Seed science is complicated but practical plotters need only consider three things. First, its worth saving, or ‘acquiring’, seed from anything you like the look of. Second, the pollination process ensures every fertilised seed contains the genes and characteristics of two parents and the moment a plant is pollinated by a different variety to itself a hybrid seed containing two different sets of genetic material, one set from each parent, is produced. This is when the adventure begins. The resultant crop might display the characteristics of one parent or a mixture of both. As it is virtually impossible to isolate plants on an allotment site the seed saver can therefore never be completely sure what type of sweetcorn or edible lupin may grow from their saved seeds. Third, anything sown from a packet saying “F1” is a hybrid created to suit consumer demand and for a variety of reasons F1 plants are not really suitable for novice seed saving. Plotters should aim to seed save from heritage and non-hybrid plants wherever possible. 

Go forth and collect
Seed saving is just a shade unpredictable and this adds to the interest of allotmenteering. It can be a lot of fun just waiting to see what happens or playing around with cross pollination yourself. Pollen floats over boundaries and will not be constrained so a relaxed attitude and curiosity is required at all times. This is surely what plotting is all about.