If you really want to be prepared for an increased level of self-sufficiency, you need to consider both open pollinated seeds and sour dough starter. Open pollinated seeds mean you will have the option of saving your own seeds for future gardens and won’t be as subject to price increases or things being out of stock.
Sour dough starter means you don’t have to keep buying yeast to make bread. Plus, it is something easy to share with friends to help them.
What is an open pollinated seed?
An open pollinated seed is from a plant that does not require special pollination interference to get that plant to reproduce seed that will grow the exact same kind of plant. If you collect seed from an open pollinated plant, you should get seeds that result in the same exact type of plant.
The term heirloom often implies open pollinated, but I would not assume that, as it is not specific enough to the issue. Heirloom means the plant has been around for a long enough time that people associate it with earlier generations. That could also be done with cuttings or dividing roots for some plants.
Organic only refers to agricultural practices when growing and processing seeds and has nothing to do with whether or not they are open pollinated or hybrid.
You will usually still get seeds from plants produced from hybrid seed, but you can’t be sure what type of plant such seed will produce. It might be more like one or the other parent plants, or it could be more like the hybrid. Some hybrid seed is patented, which I disagree with, but if you want to avoid legal trouble you might want to steer clear of saving such seed.
Spacing can make a difference
Even if a plant is open pollinated, it could cross-pollinate with other similar plants. This is why spacing between similar varieties is important with some plants. Squash plants are famous for odd cross-pollinations. It could be fun, but it could be disappointing if you want to preserve a certain type of plant seed.
Staggered timing of maturity is another way to influence what might cross pollinate with what, but it is not completely predictable. This is complicated by plants that continue to flower and produce, which squash do and is generally nice for harvesting.
Barriers to pollination are tricky, since you typically need pollination to produce the final product. With a combination of timing and barriers, it could help in some situations.
Some plants, like tomatoes, are reported to not easily cross-pollinate, which is handy if you want to grow more than one variety. The bottom line is that if you want to save seed, research the particulars about that type of plant before planting.
There are reasons hybrid seeds have become popular
Be prepared for produce from open pollinated plants to be different than what you are used to. Plants are pollinated for hybrid seed because of desirable characteristics. This includes anything from flavor to disease resistance.
Growth habits are another thing commonly bred for. I remember the first time I tried to grow open pollinated broccoli and found out just how small the floret heads were! It was a lot more work to harvest and they seemed to get to blooming faster. Still, I am going to try some open pollinated broccoli in my new, smaller garden this year.
Advantages of open pollinated seeds
Open pollinated seed is usually much less expensive. Since no special techniques or environments are necessary, producing it is easier for anyone, thus there is more competition in the market place.
Also, open pollinated plants tend to produce more seed per plant. This means less stress about whether or not you will be able to save enough seed for next year.
Seeds gathered from plants grown in your own backyard environment allow you to choose seeds from plants that are doing best where you live. You can save seed from the best tasting, biggest size, or anything that suits your fancy.
Know how to harvest seed from your plants
Seeds are ready when they are ready. Although there is usually a window of time to collect them, here are some things to know ahead of time to make it easier:
- The seeds contained in a fruit, eg, tomatoes, melons, usually need to be from very ripe fruit. Not rotting, but fully mature. Then there are steps to separate the seeds and dry them.
- Seeds from peas and beans tend to pop out of their pods when they dry. If you wait until that happens, you will either be trying to collect them from random places in the dirt or they will rot before you get them picked up.
- Some seeds really do need to dry on the plant before harvested.
- Some seeds may blow away the moment they are ready, so a light fabric bag or paper sack might help contain them. Just don’t put it on too soon, either.
- Some seeds will self-sow admirably, but not always where you want them to. Lettuce is like this, but since it grows so early, it is rarely in the way of anything else. However, I still like to save some seeds for later plantings.
A standard resource for seed saving is The Seed Savers Handbook, which I have referred to many times. Much smaller, but still very useful for the average gardener is Growing Garden Seeds by Rob Johnston, Jr. You can also get it directly from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for $1.95 plus shipping.
How to store your seeds
Whether you just purchased them or you just collected them from your own plants, how you store your seeds has a significant impact on how viable they will be. Keep them in a dry, cool, relatively dark location. Usually this means somewhere in the house because storage areas outside of the house tend to have extreme temperature fluctuations over the year and sometimes even over a day.
You can store seeds in anything, but some packaging is more convenient and/or less likely to have trouble. I have used little glass jars, paper envelopes, plastic containers. I asked for some paper seed saving envelopes for a gift not too long ago because I think they will pretty near to perfect.
Don’t forget to label your seeds!! Too many seeds look alike. Plus, you really want to keep track of how old they are. Seeds may last longer than you expect, as I talk about in Will My Old Garden Seeds Grow?
Getting your sour dough going
I made my own sour dough starter about 4 years ago, which you can read about here. I am still using starter from that same initial batch. I have saved it in the back of the fridge for a few months a few times. I have frozen it. I have never had it fail on me yet.
It is not complicated to make sour dough starter or bread. It just takes more time than regular bread. It takes 3-4 days to refresh the starter, if you don’t refresh it every few days (which I never have so far). It also takes longer for the bread to rise. I set aside a whole day for being home when baking sour dough, though I have been know to get a run or some gardening in while it rises.
I find the biggest challenge with sour dough starter is to not end up with too much starter when refreshing (or reactivating) it. Although I have been able to share a lot of starter with friends, I don’t want to be wasting flour. That being said, maybe there will be a market for it soon…
I have linked to The Bread Baker’s Apprentice here and with the image below. I did learn a lot from the book, but I also was not afraid to experiment. As I state in part 2 of my sour dough method, I now mostly use two of the recipes from The Art of Baking With Natural Yeast.
Today, I began refreshing my starter, so I should be able to bake bread early next week. It could be as early as Monday, but since my starter hasn’t been used in a few months, it might take longer to get bubbly.
Being practical and hopeful
I’m not a doomsdayer. I’m not hoping that everyone is forced back to subsistence level living. I even think the economy can recover fairly quickly if it is given the freedom to do so. Still, it makes me feel better to take some actions in line with what is going on now. Besides, gardening and baking are just good for the soul.