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					             SAVING YOUR OWN SEEDS
To get a better understanding of why we save seeds
we need to research how plants propagate


SEEDS eg dandelion “clocks” Acorns (spreading
methods – wind, animal, etc)
TUBERS – eg Jerusalem artichokes,
BULBS – eg tree onions, garlic

ANNUALS – plants which need to set seed each year
in order to survive – the roots will die back into
the soil once the plant has set seed. In a wild
system annuals are the least common plants due to
their need for open ground to set seed and
germinate. Annuals will be found on the edges of
wild plant guilds where there is disturbance in
the soil from the habits of other species
(humans/animals). Many of our staple food crops
are “annuals” - however many are overwintering –
that is that they are sown in the autumn to crop
through in the spring/ summer. Example – wheat,
beans, peas, cabbage.

BIENNIALS – Plants that set seed in the second
year from germination. Some plants need a whole
year in order to establish a strong root system
before going into there seed cycle. In wild
systems, biennials are also not common, again due
to their need to rebuild root systems every other
year. Hence you will find them close to annuals,
where the disturbed ground is. Again, many of our
staples are biennials. Carrots, beetroot,
parsnips, and many other root crops go to seed the
in the second year after sowing. However, plants
that are considered biennial can become annual if
the plant is stressed in the first year causing
the plant to go to seed. Stressing is caused by
lack of water, sudden heat or light changes,
limited root space to expand.

PERENNIALS – Plants that have a life beyond 2 yrs.
Potentially a perennial could be three years life
(sometimes called a triennial) or over 2000 yrs
old! Perennials form the bulk of all the plants on
the planet. They are the base plant of wild
systems (woodlands), since they do not depend on
reseeding each year, hence can go straight into
flower each spring without having to go through
germination from seed. Most of what we see
everyday are perennials. Eg oak tree, nettles,
wild grasses. However, there is some room for
potential confusion in that what are considered
annuals can behave like perennials by stem/root
propagation. For example, trailing plants like
Squash, if not killed off by the cold will simply
keep growing, and rooting through the stems
hitting the ground and rooting; in a sense, it is
making a new plant, but it has also come from the
same plant that rooted it and is still connected
to it. Potentially the “plant” could continue
forever, provided that the conditions for growth
were there (warmth, light, water). And on the
other end of the spectrum perennials can behave
like annuals, reseeding each year and growing new
plants in the spring, the difference being that
the roots survive in the ground.

Some perennial plants develop biennialized seeding
patterns (biennializing)– where they set seed once
every two years, for example bramley apples,
putting on a big crop once every two years.
Some perennial plants only fruit once every few
years (3yrs – 7 yrs) depending on weather
conditions, eg beech or oak tree. This does not
affect its status as a perennial plant. For more
info about edible and medicinal plants see the
Plants For A Future website
 Summary; Annuals require yearly propagation which
is most common through the practice of saving
seed. Biennials behave similar to annuals, yet
because they set seed every two years so, if you
want to grow them year on year with your own seed,
you will need to have plants on both cycles.
Perennials, being significantly easier to grow but
much slower to produce in the first few years from
seed, are more commonly propagated through taking
cuttings of stem, bud or root.

- Most of our staple foods come from annuals,
which would otherwise not survive without the
practice of cultivation, and seed saving. Some of
these staples are food plants that have been
chosen and created through many generations of
plant breeding, for there particular edible
characteristics; yield, taste, ease of harvesting.
Without us they would probably not exist. Saving
the seeds from these plants keeps them surviving.

-Seeds have huge value. Saving your own seeds can
save you loads of money having to buy seeds in.

-Plants   have   massive  potential   to   spread
themselves. One plant can produce thousands of
seeds. When you save your own seeds you have many
to re-sow and give away.
- By going through the process of saving seeds -
the full cycle of the plant, participating in each
stage and completing the cycle by re-sowing the
seeds you’ve saved -, you develop a deeper
understanding of the plant. Saving seeds is a step
in completing the loop of “food to mouth to
earth”, and is another method of increasing your
independence from current economical systems.

- By saving the seeds from your homegrown plants
you are allowing them to subtly adapt to the
growing environment and your own growing methods
and cycles.

- Seeds are very transportable. It’s far easier to
travel with seeds than it is with plants.

SOME PLANT SPECIFICS   - information about seeding

Root crops – most of our common root crops are
biennial and will seed in the second year. Root
crops that are prone to damage outdoors in the
winter can be transplanted to the polytunnel in

Leaf crops – Nearly all common salad plants that
are sown in the spring will go to seed by the
summer. (Annual). Hardy salads are commonly sown
in the autumn so as to overwinter and give picking
throughout the cold months. These sowings will go
to seed in the spring. Brassicas (cabbage, kale..)
usually behave like biennials unless stressed.
This means that they will tend to over winter and
go to seed in the spring, setting seed by about

Flower crops – Many flowers are a mix of
perennials and annuals. Since one wants the
flowers of the plant, annual flowering plants will
all be sown in the spring so as let them go to
seed in the autumn.

Seed crops – Annual patterns of seed crops fall
into two main categories – those from spring
sowings and those from overwintering. Grains are
sown both in March – may (spring sowing) and
august – oct (overwintering). The overwintering
grains will crop around mid July and the spring
sowings will crop around autumn equinox (mid sep)
Legumes ( beans and peas ) follow the grain cycles
but usually have a slightly shorter seeding cycle,
depending on what variety of legume it is. Broad
beans and the hardy peas ( particularly the round
seeded varieties) are sown overwintering in Oct –
Nov, or even December and continuously throughout
the winter in sheltered warm areas ( down south)
as well as throughout spring. In the north there
will be overwintering sowings and spring sowings.
Less hardy beans will be sown late spring. Over
wintering sowings will be cropping by May and the
spring sowings will crop throughout the summer.
Continual sowings give continuity. Many sowings
between July and Sep will not have the time to
produce seed, so would be used as green manure.

1 – GERMINATION – the root comes out of the seed
2 – COTYLEDONS - the embryonic first leaves of a
3 – MAIN LEAVES – these are the character leaves
that one can identify the plant with.
4 – SEED STEM – out of the center of the main
leaves the Flower stem develops, at this stage the
root develops a tough structure to gain strength
to hold up the seeds. It is this stage, which is
the signal that the plant is now progressing
towards flowering.
5 – BUDDING – out of the main stem the plant
develops buds. Often the stem and budding phase
are occurring at the same time.
6 – FLOWERING – the bud emerge into flowers.
this is the main point in the plants growth cycle
in which other terrestrial beings (mostly insects)
play a part in the plants growth cycle. Many
plants would not exist without the necessary
pollinators around. As soon as the flower is
pollinated the seed starts to develop, often
encased within a fruit or hard shell / skin to
protect the seed from the damaging influences of
the elements. It is at this stage that many
nutrients are drawn up from out of the soil to
form the seed, it is at this stage that liquid
feeding plants will help produce more seed/fruit.
8 – SEED – the finished seed awaits the touch of
water or animals to ingest it in order to begin
its growth cycle. The seed is the beginning and
end of the plants growth cycle.

Most plants have flowers and need insects or wind
to become pollinated - taking the male flower
pollen to the female flower.
Pollination happens quite naturally when plants
are out of doors.
When plants are indoors, pollination can be
disrupted due to lack of insects, bees or wind.
Understanding the families of plants, ( plants
grouped by similar characteristics and genetic
line) can help you to understand the method of
pollination used to save that particular plant,
hence understanding how to intervene to ensure
Cross pollination – some plants are self
pollinating. Neally all legume plants will remain
genentically the same since they have both male
and female flower parts together in the flower.

Some plants however can cross pollinate. This is
when genetics from two different varieties of
plants within the same family of plants – a bee
visits a male flower from one type of squash and
pollinates a female flower from a different type
of squash. Here the female flower will produce
fruit that is true to the variety of seed that it
came from, but the seeds saved from this squash
may become hybrid – a cross of genetics that come
from two different strains. This is one way to
breed your own vegetable varieties! But if you
want to get true types ( heritage or heirloom )
then you will need to isolate the plants or self
pollinate, which involves taking the male flowers
from the same variety of plant and rubbing pollen
on the female flowers. See A Seed Savers Handbook
for more info .


TREES and SHRUBS – since trees have already
developed the STEM (trunk to support fruit/seed)
stage 4 – then they go straight into budding phase
in the spring, often before putting out any
CLIMBERS – Most trailing plants behave the same as
trees. Some trailing plants like blackberries, die
back after the 3-year growth. Blackberries often
fruit on second year growth, and will fruit late
on first year growth and will only stop putting
out flowers when the weather turns too cold. Vines
develop strong tree like branches, and can grow
very old.

GROUNDCOVERS – ground covers, nettles docks grass
etc, have a seeding pattern that is similar to the
annual stages of plant growth above, and yet
despite the stems of last years growth dieing
back, the roots of these plants survive in the
ground over winter and hence can skip the first
two stages of growth that annuals have to go

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