Archives For seed saving

Seed Pools and Jacuzzis

Improving the health of your saved seeds

Mike Kwiatek —  December 19, 2013 — 3 Comments

Have you ever spent days tending to seeds only to find that they rot shortly after sprouting? If you want your seeds to grow into big healthy plants, you should take the precaution of treating them to prevent fungal and bacterial diseases.

Seeds can catch diseases from diseased parents or plants around them. Fungal infections are common because spores can travel on the wind or in water droplets and may land on seeds, sometimes penetrating the outer layers of the seed coat and remaining until germination. When the seed sprouts, the new soft tissue offers a welcome home for the fungus to grow. Bacterial pathogens sometimes will infect the embryo of the seed itself, so the tough outer seed coat protects the bacteria too! When the seed germinates, the bacteria grows and infects the young seedling.

Don’t worry! There is a way to save your seeds from this cruel fate! We use two methods to help prevent disease in seedlings: bleach treatment and heat treatment.

Bleach treatment

PHOTO: Pumpkin and tomato seeds.

Pumpkin seeds (left) require bleach treatment, while tomato seeds (right) will require heat treatment.

If you’re working with squash or melon family members, asparagus, or zinnia seeds, you will want to give them the bleach treatment. These plants are rarely—if ever—infected from within the seed coat. Use heat treatment for seeds of the tomato family, (tomato, eggplant, pepper), carrot family (carrot, celery, parsley, cilantro), cabbage family (see here for a long list of those vegetables), spinach, and lettuce.

Bleach treatment is easy! Your first step is to collect your materials. You will need a work space with bleach, water, measuring cups or spoons, dish soap, seeds appropriate for this treatment (the list above), a bowl, a strainer, and a mesh screen or newspaper.

PHOTO: Measuring cups full of supplies, including seeds, bleach, and water.

A few common household supplies make this an easy task.

Create a bleach solution of 80 percent water and 20 percent bleach. An easy way to do this is to combine 1 cup (8 oz.) of water with 1/4 cup (2 oz.) of bleach in a bowl. Add a drop of dish soap to the solution to break the surface tension, add the seeds, and allow them to sink. Mix the solution for one minute. Next, pour the contents of your bowl through a strainer, and rinse your seeds well in cold water for about 5 minutes. Finally, place your seeds on a screen or newspaper and allow them to dry before putting them in bags or containers for next spring.

Heat treatment, or the “seed jacuzzi” method

If you’re concerned about your seeds carrying a bacterial disease inside their coat, do for them what our bodies do for us when we are sick: heat them up! Bacteria don’t respond well to higher temperatures, which is why you develop a fever when you become ill. Since seeds can’t get fevers, we put them in a seed jacuzzi.

For this treatment, you will need water, a warming plate, thermometer, nylon bags (I use coffee filters instead), a glass container, and a screen or newspaper.

PHOTO: Tomato seeds, wrapped in a coffee filter and rubber-banded, are soaking in a glass of water.

Allowing seeds to pre-warm will prevent the embryos from being shocked by the heat. If you don’t pre-warm your seeds, fewer seeds will survive the treatment.

First, place your seeds in a bag or filter that will allow water to flow through. Next, pre-warm the seeds by placing the bag in a glass container of 100-degree-Fahrenheit water for 10 minutes. Make sure the temperature stays within a few degrees of this range.

Next, place the seeds in water heated to between 118 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the chart below to identify the proper temperature for your seeds and maintain this temperature within a few degrees for the time listed on the chart.

 

Chart of Seed Treatment

Chart of Seed Treatment via Ohio State Univeristy Extension Program


PHOTO: Pumpkin seeds sprouting on a dampened paper towel.

Healthy, sprouting seeds will be back before you know it!

Finally, place the bag of seeds in cool water for 5 minutes before putting them on newspaper or a screen to dry.

Whether you take the seeds to the pool (bleach treatment) or the jacuzzi (heat treatment), treating your seeds to prevent disease is very important. When spring returns, you’ll be very happy that you did.

Mark your calendars for our annual Seed Swap on Sunday, February 23, 2014.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

An All-American Salute to Our “Founding Gardeners”

Paying tribute to promoters of the American farming tradition.

Adriana Reyneri —  July 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Our “founding gardeners”— author Andrea Wulf’s depiction of early U.S. presidents who passionately promoted farming as a means to independence — would be tickled to see the American Seed Saver bed in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. There, visitors will find varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables grown by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, in his country estate at Monticello, just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Many of these varieties are also grown in Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden on the White House grounds.

PHOTO: tomatoes and marigolds

Grown together in a companion planting, marigolds deter pests from tomato plants in the garden.

The American Seed Saver bed also honors everyday gardeners who help safeguard the genetic diversity of plants, according to Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg, who oversees the Fruit & Vegetable Garden. “Because of the work of home gardeners and seed-saving organizations, an increasing number of heirloom varieties are now available to the public,” she said.  

Learn about saving your own seeds!

Heirloom vegetable varieties are open-pollinated plants that reproduce themselves, staying “true to their parents,” according to Hilgenberg. They’ve been handed down through generations, a practice that helps maintain the food crop gene pool for future generations.

PHOTO: Beans in flower

Flowering beans
Photo: H. Zell CC-BY-SA-3.0

PHOTO: Harvested rattlesnake beans

Harvested beans
Photo: centeroftheweb.ecrater.com

The Abraham Lincoln tomato (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Abraham Lincoln’) was planted in our American Seed Saver bed as a tribute to our 16th president, who established the United States Department of Agriculture more than 150 years ago. The big, sweet, and juicy tomato is a good slicer and also makes great ketchup. “What could be more American than that?” Hilgenberg said. “Other cultures dry their tomatoes or make paste. We’re going to put them on our burgers.”

Visitors to the American Seed Saver bed can also see the rattlesnake bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), said to originate from the Cherokee people. The variety is also known as the preacher bean because its abundant yield of purple-streaked green pods gives cause for thanks and praise. The nearby Painted Lady bean (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Painted Lady’), native to Mexico, was popular in England by the 1850s and a favorite in America by the early 1880s.

The sweet and spicy Alma Paprika pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Alma Paprika’), of Hungarian origin, can be dried and ground into paprika and is cited in one of the earliest American cookbooks, according to Hilgenberg. In the American Seed Saver bed, the plant also serves as a symbol of America as a melting pot of cultures and traditions. “We’re such a nation of immigrants and now we have gardens with plants from all over the world,” Hilgenberg said. “We’ve made them our own.”


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

As farmers’ markets wind down, many of us want to preserve the bounty of this year for the next. Why not save save seeds from your last tomatoes so you can grow them yourself next year?

1)    Make sure to save the seeds from an open-pollinated or heirloom tomato. These seeds will reliably reproduce the “parent plant.”

2)    Choose a ripe, disease-free tomato; one past being edible is best.

Heirloom Tomato Weekend_RJC8698

3)    Cut the tomato ‘around the equator’ and squeeze out the seeds and ‘goo’ in to a strainer over the kitchen sink. Run cold water over and use your fingers to try and separate the ‘goo’ from the seed.

Heirloom Tomato Weekend_RJC8715

4)    Knock the strainer on a paper plate lined with a coffee filter, dislodging the seeds from the strainer.

5)    Label the filter with the tomato variety and let dry which could take up to three weeks. The top of the refrigerator is a great place for this.

tomato seeds in envelope_RJC6138at

6)    When dry, scrape the seed in to an envelope labeled with the variety and the date for storage. If the seeds stick to the coffee filter, simply fold the whole thing up and store in the envelope. The filter itself can be planted; it will disintegrate.

7)    Store your heirloom tomato seeds in a cool dry place indoors. I like to put them in my top desk drawer.

8)    Seeds have varied life expectancies. Tomato seed is viable for 4-10 years.

9)    Check back in late winter for a blog post about a simple germination test checking to see if your seed is viable.

Mark your calendars for the Second Annual Seed Swap on February 23, 2013. For more information on seed saving visit our web site.