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All seeds are created equal

November 12, 2010

A bee loaded with pumpkin flower pollen

Image via Wikipedia

How Heirloom and Hybrid Seeds are Created…

has always been a kind of a mystery to me. I mean, how does a producer of “heirloom” seeds know, absolutely know, that the seeds he is producing are not tainted?  And for that matter, how does any seed producer know what the make up is?

The answer, as it turns out in most manufacturing processes, is control.  For you and I, dear reader, we plant some seeds in the garden and they sprout, and we water them, weed them, cultivate them and they give us good things.  They feed us.   While we are out in the garden, we hear and see insects, bees wander around from flower to flower, and they pollinate the flowers, and the flowers turn into fruit and vegetables.  And we are happy.

The control comes in when one wants to assure that only pollen from a specific breed is allowed to pollinate the flower.   Seed breeders go to elaborate methods to insure that only the preferred pollen is allowed into contact with the flower.  You and I , well, we are probably just happy to get those fresh fruits and vegetables, because they are so much better than store-bought.

Now the heirloom seed is pollinated with itself.  The hybrid combines the attributes of more than one.  And seed producers have been very busy trying to combine attributes like drought resistance, larger size, higher yields, through selective pollination.  They use control over the access to the flowers, and deliver the pollen manually, (like with a paintbrush), to get their product.

Now I bring this up because I am experimenting with seed saving.  I have several kinds of beans, and corn, and squash that I have saved seeds from. I know the species of seed that I started with, but I wondered, what will the seed that I saved be?  Since I have not protected the flowers of these plants, will they be the same as their parents? Will they be mixed breed?  I dunno.  I do know that I selected the better looking specimens, and also that I still need to get out there and collect some of the seed.

I had some luck this season planting my own *Jacob’s Cattle* saved seed.  This is a dry bean that is similar to a kidney bean, but it has white mixed in with the maroon.  I got some beans that looked just like the ones I planted, and some that were all purple, and some that were mostly white, and very small.  Although Jacob’s Cattle is an heirloom, I can’t feel confident that my second generation saved seed is.

What I can say is that it tastes just fine.  And that works for me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 1:55 am

    Great information. Thanks for posting it. :)

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