Useful Advice for Budding Horticulturalists
12 Feb 2015
March is upon us and in many parts of the world it is time to either prepare the garden for spring planting or dedicate yourself to planting directly. At the moment not only is it possible to enjoy many winter vegetables, but you can already begin thinking about which natural products you would like to bring to the table in the following months and decide which seeds to save for the next harvest. There are many decisions to make…
Which seeds to buy The seeds most commonly found on the market are those produced by large seed companies. But choosing something different or choosing to produce your own seeds is possible. In this case, you probably this won’t mean perfect super-seeds, and probably just over half would germinate out of a hundred. In a small garden, it’s worth focusing on quality – in terms of taste – rather than uniformity and maximum yield.
How to identify commercial seeds Identifying a commercial seed isn’t difficult: all you need to do is pay attention to the details on the packet, where the codes F1 or F2 indicate hybrid seeds, products from few multinationals distributed by many retailers. In general, these seeds are the most expensive but crucially they will not re-grow the following year as they do not retain the same characteristics in terms of growth and production as the parent plant. In reality all of the information contained on the seed packet is essential, even if it is often incomplete. It details how the seeds have been obtained, whether they have been treated with fungicides or other chemical products, the qualities of the variety, how to cultivate the seeds, the suggested year of harvest and the expiration date.
Which other seeds can we trust? Avoiding commercial seeds is possible, instead favouring traditional varieties that you can find through friends, nurseries or agricultural institutions, universities or other research centres. Firstly it is good to choose several seed varieties and plant as many as possible. It is always better to favour traditional seeds, such as the varieties that derive from open pollination that are backed by at least 50 years of history and may have already acclimatized to the local area. In the garden a little experimentation is always allowed: you could try growing varieties from other areas or those new to the scene, but always favour openly pollinated varieties, that is, plants selected through natural pollination. Organically certified seeds are available online from specialised sites and natural food stores and these remain the best choice.
How to obtain self-harvesting seeds and store them for the following year Seeds are precious, living things and, like all living things, should be treated with care. What’s more, we must know how to select them. Take beans for example. If you would like to select and store the seeds, it is useful to select only the healthiest and most fertile plants. The seeds must be selected after the beans have been dried: the best – those that are smooth and intact – must be chosen. They should be of a size typical of the variety, and they ought to be left in a dish for a day to ensure they are well dried. The best way to preserve the seeds is to place them in paper within air-tight containers, preferably made of tin, or alternatively glass, and keep them in the dark. Easy, no?
Are plants a good alternative? If you aren’t able to devote much time to choosing seeds, instead you can place your trust in the plants that, having already been selected by nurseries, guarantee a certain level of success. However, few varieties exist commercially and so for the rarest and most traditional it is the seeds themselves you must trust. You can ask local farmers for these. Alternatively, contact shops and specialist websites.
To better understand the world of seeds, consult our booklet Seeds According to Slow Food.
Have a good harvest!
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