Tag Archives: Seed Saving

7 Steps to Saving Cabbage Seed

Most seed savers get started with a few large-seeded, easy-to-grow and harvest crops, like beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. If you’re ready to take the next step in your seed-saving journey or have an adventurous spirit, you may be ready to tackle cabbage. Saving cabbage seed can be tricky for a couple of reasons, but it is doable. Keep reading to learn the steps to save seed from your favorite cabbage varieties

Choose a Variety

To get viable seed, you want to grow an open-pollinated cabbage variety. All the cabbages we carry at SESE are open-pollinated. To learn more about what open-pollinated means, check out our post, What’s in a Seed: Open-Pollinated Vs. Hybrid Vs. GM.

Consider Isolation Distance

One of the tricky parts about saving seed from cabbages and other brassicas is that there are so many brassicas. This makes it difficult to save seed from more than one variety each year. For example, you may want to save seed from cabbage, but you can’t just isolate it from other cabbages. Cabbage will cross with kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale!

To prevent this problem, all you need to do is only let one of your brassicas go to flower each year. Harvest the others before they bolt. Unlike many brassicas, cabbages are biennial, meaning they flower and set seed the second year. This can be helpful when preventing them from crossing with other seed crops. 

If you’re determined to save seed from multiple brassicas or cabbage varieties, you’ll need to isolate them. For home use, isolate your cabbages by 1/8 of a mile. For pure seed, small plantings need to be isolated by 14 to 1/2 a mile!

Select Your Best Plants

When you save seed, you want to think about maintaining the quality of a variety or maybe even improving it each year. To do this, you should save seed from your best plants. You can consider disease resistance, drought tolerance, earliness, flavor, and more when selecting plants. Check out our blog post, Selecting Plant Characteristics, to learn more.

You also want to ensure you save seed from enough plants to preserve viable genetics. For home use, five plants may be enough. However, to maintain a variety over a long period, you want to save seed from 20 to 50 plants each year. 

Overwinter Your Cabbages

Cabbage is a biennial, meaning that it flowers and sets seed during its second year of life. To get your cabbage to set seed, you’ll need it to overwinter. In areas with 10 to 12 weeks of cool weather below 50°F that doesn’t regularly dip below 35°F, you can overwinter cabbages in the field.

If you live in a colder climate, you’ll need to overwinter your cabbages in a sheltered location. Dig them up and pot them in large containers filled with damp potting mix or sand. Leave the heads intact but trim off any loose or dying leaves. Keep the roots as intact as possible.

Move the containers into a root cellar or unheated basement, garage, or shed. Ideally, you want to keep them between 34 and 40°F. In the spring, plant them back out in the field. You may need to stake them.

Ensure Seeds are Fully Mature

You need to catch cabbage seeds at the right time. They won’t continue to mature once removed from the plant, so it’s crucial to ensure that the seed pods and the seeds inside become dry and brown. Don’t wait too long, though! Dry pods may begin to shatter and drop seeds, or birds may take them.

Harvest Your Seeds

It’s easiest to harvest seeds by cutting off entire branches. Then place them on an old sheet. You can use your hands to break the pods or thresh them by hitting them with a thick stick or rod. Mature seed should separate from the pods readily.

Store Your Seeds

Once seeds are fully dry they can be stored somewhere cool and dark in airtight containers. Cabbage seed should remain viable for several years. Learn how to do a simple germination test here.

What’s In a Seed: Open-Pollinated vs. Hybrid vs. GM

If you’ve found your way to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange blog, you probably have at least the basic knowledge that not all seeds or seed companies are the same. However, if you’re new to gardening, you may not understand what makes seeds different. In this post, we’ll discuss open-pollinated, hybrid, and genetically modified seeds. We’ll also touch on heirlooms seeds and what makes them special. 

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated refers to how the seeds are bred. In an open-pollinated system, plants are pollinated by other plants of the same variety, creating seed that will produce “true to type” or display the same characteristics each season. 

This type of seed makes up most of the seeds we carry at Southern Exposure. Many of the open-pollinated varieties we carry are also heirlooms, but we’ll get into that later.

Open pollination is the oldest method of plant breeding and is generally done by isolating a crop. Typically, a crop is isolated from other varieties by distance. However, they can also be isolated in greenhouses or by time or technical methods.

At Southern Exposure, we believe everyone has the right to save seed and grow food. Open-pollinated varieties allow gardeners and farmers to save seeds from their own crops. This helps adapt varieties to their local growing conditions and encourages food sovereignty.

When you save seed from only the best 50% of the plants, you can improve the variety over time. Learn more about what seed growers look for when choosing plants in our post, Selecting Plant Characteristics.

Hybrid

Hybrid also refers to a type of breeding. Two open-pollinated varieties are grown side by side. Using hand pollination, corn detasseling, or another technical method, growers ensure that every seed has received pollen from one breed (the father) and is grown on a distinctly different breed (the mother).

The seed from that breeding process is what’s known as an F1 hybrid. If F1 hybrids are grown and bred with each other, the resulting seed is known as an F2 hybrid. 

F1 hybrids often display what’s known as hybrid vigor. This means they may display better vigor, disease resistance, earliness, or other characteristics than their open-pollinated parents. Unfortunately, while the F1 generation is typically very uniform, the F2 generation often displays wide variation in traits. 

This wide variation in the F2 generation is the biggest drawback with hybrids. It means that seed saved from hybrids isn’t reliable, forcing growers to purchase from seed companies each year.

As I mentioned in my previous post, 8 Steps to Saving Corn Seed, we carry a few hybrid sweet corns. Hybrids can be helpful for market growers and farmers because of their uniform harvest time. That said, 98% of the seed we carry is open-pollinated (and hybrids are clearly marked) because we believe being able to produce your own seed is essential.

GM

GM stands for genetic modification. It’s the process of creating seeds by taking a gene, through laboratory means, from one species and implanting it into another species where it would have never naturally occurred. 

At Southern Exposure, we have many concerns about these types of seeds. GM seeds cannot be saved year to year, meaning that gardeners and farmers must rely on the big companies that produce them and have the financial ability to purchase new seeds each year. 

These huge companies produce just a few varieties which are now grown all over the United States. The switch to just these few varieties has significantly decreased seed biodiversity. This loss in biodiversity has negatively impacted our food system and could have unknown ramifications in the future. As we lose biodiversity, we may be losing genetics resistant to certain diseases or that could handle the effects of climate change better. It’s also a loss of culture.

“The number one threat to seed biodiversity: corporate takeover of commercial seeds by major chemical/biotechnology companies.” – The Center for Food Safety

GM seeds also come with other drawbacks. Many GM varieties are specifically designed to be grown in combination with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. These chemicals negatively impact farmers’ health and force them to rely on these companies even more. They also harm water quality, wildlife, and soil health.

Many studies have also shown that these crops are detrimental to our health. The chemical herbicides and pesticides don’t just wash off; they make it into consumers’ systems. These crops also tend to have lower nutritional values than those open-pollinated varieties grown in gardens and on small farms.

In 2011, Southern Exposure joined nine other members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and over 80 total plaintiffs in taking a stand for the protection of organic seed. Plaintiffs include agricultural organizations, seed companies and farmers. Read more about this landmark lawsuit here.

So What’s an Heirloom?

There’s no official definition of an heirloom. Heirlooms are just open-pollinated varieties that have been saved for generations. At Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, we consider those open-pollinated varieties bred before 1940 to be heirlooms. 

We love heirlooms for many reasons. First is their incredible flavor. Farmers and gardeners saved heirlooms year after year primarily because they tasted good. Sure, there were other considerations such as size, storage ability, and earliness, but generally, vegetables that didn’t taste great weren’t saved.

Many modern varieties and hybrids, on the other hand, also have to meet other standards. They must be uniform, ship, and store well, and be easy to grow. This is a great thing for large growers, but as anyone whose eaten a supermarket tomato will tell you, it’s not always great for their flavor.

Heirlooms are also important parts of our culture and heritage, help diversify our diets, can be adapted to our local growing conditions, and much more. Read more about why we love heirlooms here.

What Should You Do?

So, now you understand the importance of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. You can support and join the movement of growers, foodies, and activists working to protect these varieties.

This year, if you’re growing a garden, we encourage you to choose open-pollinated varieties and try saving seed. We created a list of 22 reasons you should save seed in 2022!

Then you can share seed with others. Go to seed swaps or share some of your favorite open-pollinated varieties with neighbors and friends. You could even try to sell some seed and earn a little extra cash from your garden.

Lastly, even if you don’t have the space for a large garden, you can support those who do. Visit your local farmers market and ask if anyone has any heirlooms for you to try or encourage your local community garden to grow and save seed from open-pollinated varieties. 

8 Steps to Saving Corn Seed

In a previous post, we gave you 22 reasons to save seed in 2022. We hope that all of our customers are considering saving some seed this year. If you’re new to seed saving, one crop that’s great for beginners is corn. Whether you’re growing sweet corn, flour corn, Gourdseed corn, or popcorn, saving corn seed is simple! It’s an easy-to-grow annual, and its large seeds are easy to process and store. 

Selecting a Variety 

When selecting a corn variety, whether you’re growing sweet corn, popcorn, or flour corn, you need to choose an open-pollinated variety. These are seeds that were pollinated by other plants of the same variety. This means that as long as you keep them isolated from other varieties, they will keep producing true to this variety year after year. All heirlooms are open-pollinated.

Hybrids are seeds that are the result of a cross between two varieties. Typically seed saved from hybrids will not produce plants that are the same as the parent plant. 

Sweet Corn hybrids are the only hybrid varieties we carry at SESE. We have a couple of hybrid sweet corns because some of the farmers and market gardeners who purchase our seed prefer the uniformity and reliability of these hybrids. However, they’re not suitable for seed saving. 

Plan Your Garden for Saving Corn Seed

Unlike most garden vegetables that rely on insect pollination, corn is a wind-pollinated crop. Pollen is carried from the tassels of corn stalks to the silks on other stalks by the wind. Each silk connects to a potential kernel (a plant ovule). If you’ve ever had corn that didn’t produce many kernels, it’s because they weren’t fertilized. 

When you plan your garden’s layout, you want to ensure that the corn you intend to save seed from is separated from other varieties by 600 feet for home use or one mile for pure seed. 

Select Your Best Plants

When you save seed year after year, you have the ability to improve a variety. You can select for a variety of plant characteristics. You can select for traits like flavor, earliness, disease resistance, and drought tolerance if you save seed from the plants that perform the best. 

Let Your Corn Fully Mature

When harvesting corn for seed, it’s essential to let the corn fully mature and dry on the plant. The husk and stalks should be papery and brown. The silks should be dry and brown. When you harvest, the kernels should feel hard and dry. You shouldn’t be able to puncture them with a thumbnail. Sweet corn kernels should have a wrinkled appearance.Ira Shelling Blue Clarage (saving corn seed)

Harvest Your Seeds

You want to ensure you’re saving enough to maintain genetic diversity when you harvest seed. Save at least 500 seeds from at least 10% of the plants to maintain the vigor and genetic diversity of the variety.

Dry Your Ears

Most corn should be dried further after harvesting to ensure mold doesn’t develop in storage. You’ll want to dry your corn somewhere out of direct sunlight. 

You can do this in a few ways. One option is to pull back the husks but not remove them. They can be hung from the husks separately or braided into bunches. You can also remove the husks entirely and hang the cobs in mesh bags. It’s a good idea to shake the bags around every couple of days to ensure all the cobs are drying evenly. Lastly, you can lay the cobs out on a rack or screen. Large screens can be made using lumber and chicken wire or hardware cloth.

Process Your Seeds

Corn seed is easy to process. To remove the kernels, you can use your hand and twist it over the kernels. You can also use a corn sheller to make this process easier on your hands. 

Though it isn’t strictly necessary if your corn is just for seed use, you can winnow out any chafe (plant material). To do this, place a box fan on a chair or stool with a bucket in front of it. Then, with the fan on, dump your corn seed into the bucket. The fan should blow away the lighter plant material while the kernels fall into the bucket. You may have to do this several times to remove all the chafe.

Store Your Seeds

Once your seeds are fully dry and clean, you can store them in airtight containers. Mason jars work well for this. Keep them somewhere cool and dark until you’re ready to plant them next season!

Learn how to do a germination test in this post, Seeds: Tips for Storing, Testing, & Saving.

Using these eight simple steps, you can save seed from your corn crop! To learn more about saving seeds from other crops, check out these posts: Easy Seed Saving with Promiscuous Pollination, 7 Steps to Saving Cucumber Seed, 6 Steps to Saving Pumpkin Seeds, Seed Saving from Biennial Crops, and Seed Saving for Beginners.