This page goes hand-in-hand with
the Food Production and
Square-Foot Gardening pages.
First off, let’s be aware that after the shift, Northeast Pennsylvania may have a slightly warmer climate than the one we experience now. This will affect some current assumptions me make about growth times. Also, points that may relate most directly to anticipated post-shift conditions are highlighted in blue.
Key points from the book "Growing & Saving Vegetable Seeds"
(By Marc Rogers / 1978 / Garden Way Publishing / Charlotte, Vermont, USA)
If you live in N.E. Pennsylvania, this one is kept at the Carbondale library. I ordered it through the Scranton branch, and it was available the next day:
Annuals are those plants grown from seed to maturity and then allowed to go to seed themselves, all within the space of one season. Common vegetables that are annuals include beans, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, muskmelon, pea, pepper, pumpkin, most radishes, spinach, squash, and tomato. These are good starting points for most novice seed-savers.
To increase your odds of success, go with self-pollinating annuals such as snap beans, lettuce, peas, tomatoes. These do not rely on wind or insects for pollination.
- Seeds aren’t really a beginning. There are links between generations of plants. They are living, resting plants in an embryonic state, carrying on internal metabolic activity while they are dormant.
Biennials may pose a problem because of their need for storage over a winter season, before they flower and go to seed the following season.
Cauliflower would be especially difficult, since it is not cold-tolerant. Common biennials include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, celery, onion, parsley, parsnip, Swiss chard, and turnip.
Perennials return each year. If planted from seed, they’ll start producing seed a year or two later. Common perennials include rhubarb and asparagus.
Don’t wait until fall to decide on the parent plants for seed. Watch how the plants perform all season long. Consider the whole plant, not just the fruit, when making your decision.
I believe one strategy we can employ is to save seeds from a variety of suppliers. This may help enhance the genetic diversity of our seed stock.
Cabbage: Grow it to eating size before wintering over. Plants wintered over in an immature state don’t always flower and seed reliably the following spring.
In general, save seeds from several plants of the same variety.
Seed that is picked too early will not have a chance to accumulate enough stored nourishment, whether to get it off to a good start or even to make it through the winter.
After collecting seed-containing fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons, you need to separate the seed from the pulp. With tomatoes, for instance, spoon the seedy pulp into a jar, then add water. Lightweight pulp and worthless seeds will rise to the top. The heavier, good seeds will sink to the bottom. Some gardeners use the same procedure for cucumbers and melons.
For squash and pumpkins, separate seeds from pulp, wash thoroughly, and let dry for a few days.
Dry all seeds, even those that already look dry, such as carrots and dill. The larger the seed, the longer the drying period necessary. If dried too fast, the seed can shrink or crack. Seeds can be dried on screens. If seeds become damp after the initial drying, they will lose some of their longevity, even when re-dried.
Heat, especially when combined with high humidity, is the enemy of seed quality. Heat promotes the activity of fungi, molds, and bacteria. Molds and fungi barely exist at a stored temperature of 50 degrees-F (10 degrees-C). A preferable storage temperature is between 32 and 41 degrees-F.
Onion seed is usually considered short-lived, but has been known to remain viable for up to 12 years when kept dry and well-sealed.
Peas and beans are best stored in bags rather than air-tight containers.
Self-pollinating plants include beans, eggplant, lettuce, lima bean, okra, pea, pepper, potato, soybean, and tomato. Most others are either wind or insect-pollinated.
Provide some moisture when wintering over beets. A dry, shriveled beet will produce few or no seeds. Don’t attempt seed crops of both beets and Swiss chard the same season. The two will cross-pollinate. (As a shortcut, sometimes this page will use the word 'cross' as a simpler form of 'cross-pollinate'.)However, you can have first-year crops of both, or else a seed crop of one and a first-year crop of the other. Both types of seed can remain viable for up to four years, so you can plant seed crops for each in alternate years.
Spinach: Seed should be harvested from among the plants that were the last to bolt. (Bolt = turn to seed.) As the plants turn yellow, the seeds are reaching maturity.
Cabbage family: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi will cross with each other if any are flowering at the same time. If saving for seed, time the plantings so the flowering times are staggered. Except for broccoli, these are all biennials and must be carried over to the second season for seed. Of these, cauliflower can be difficult to carry over.
Cabbage: A seed stem will grow in the second year, containing pods. When the pods turn yellow, the seeds are mature. Pick seeds from a variety of cabbage plants. Needs at least a 30-day cooling period at below 50 degrees-F to force bolting. For more than enough seed for several years, the gardener must raise 18 cabbages the first year. Save the 12 best for wintering over, and the best of these for replanting the following year. On the second-year plants, rogue out the undesirables before the blossoms appear, or else they’ll pollinate with the desirables. The bulky outer leaves of the cabbage can be removed before storing. When replanted the following spring, cut an inch-deep ‘X’ in the head to facilitate growth of the stalk. Stake it.
Broccoli is good for beginners because it produces flowers the first year. Will cross with Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi, so you’re better off growing just one of these per year for seed.
Brussels sprouts: Not necessary to slash the tops of the small heads, as should be done for cabbage.
Chinese cabbage: Will cross with turnips and radishes.
Turnip: Relatively easy to grow for seeds.
Rutabaga: It's much like the turnip, can be grown in cooler climates, and is slower growing.
When growing for seed, peas and beans are great for beginners. The seeds are large, and because the plants are annuals, the plant doesn’t have to be carried over into the next season.
Too much fertilizer that’s heavy on nitrogen may produce lush plants but fewer seeds.
When marking seeds, don’t forget to write down the particular variety that was grown.
Peas: To preserve purity of seed, avoid planting adjacent rows of different varieties. If well dried, the seeds can be left in the pods for weeks or months. May not store best in airtight containers, but in burlap bags under cool, dry conditions.
Beans: Must be harvested before freezing can damage the seed. Minimal chances of cross-fertilization, but if you’re growing different varieties, you can plant other vegetables between the rows. Seeds should be ready for harvesting about six weeks after they’re ready for eating, or when most of the pods have turned brown. Cure for a week or two, then shell. Store in a cool, dry place -- not in airtight containers.
Parsley family: Easier to carry the plants over to the second year of growth than with the cabbage family, but the seeds tend to have lower viability.
Carrots: In the second year, seeds of this biennial are ready for harvesting when the heads of the top branches have turned brown.
Celery: Fairly difficult to raise for seed, because of its fussiness wintering over. Long growing season in northern climates. Keep roots in soil when wintering over. Cold temperatures and high humidity are required during storage. Will cross with celeriac.
Parsley: Seeds don’t retain viability for more than two years, as with parsnip. Are slow to germinate.
Parsnip: Should be able to winter over without difficulty.
Eggplant: Raise only one variety for seed per season. Leave the fruit on the plant until it falls off. This indicates the seeds are mature. If frosts threaten, take it indoors and you should find mature seeds in a couple weeks.
Peppers: Some cross-pollination can be expected if different varieties are grown in adjacent rows. Are ready for seed production when they have turned color and begin to shrivel. If necessary, take them indoors for ripening.
Tomatoes: Separate your different varieties with as much garden space as possible. Mix seeds and pulp from several plants, except of course among plants of different varieties. Keep each variety in a different glass jar when separating.
Cucumber family: Don’t worry about cucumbers, melons or squashes crossing. It won’t happen, but crosses will occur between varieties of each.
Seed of winter squash and pumpkin is mature when the plant is ready for harvest. Summer squash seed is ready when the plant has hardened and has reached full growth. Because squash will keep for months, there’s no rush to removing the seed. When seeds are drying, move them around a little every day so they’re not sitting on tiny pockets of moisture. After they’re placed in a sealed jar, check it for moisture every couple weeks. If necessary, dry them out some more.
Cucumbers: Growing season for seeds is about five weeks longer than growing season for eating. Seed is mature when cucumber is yellow. As with squash, can be hand-pollinated. When fermenting seeds in water, stir a few times every day to prevent mold from forming. Dry out the good seeds on a screen. Don’t let them cling together, or else they’re retain unwanted moisture.
Muskmelon: Seed is mature when the fruit is ready to eat.
Watermelon: Won’t cross with muskmelons, cucumbers, squashes or pumpkins. As with muskmelons, seed is mature when the watermelon is ready to be eaten.
Lettuce: The gardener should aim for plants about two inches high before cold weather halts the growth. As with other plants, you may want to discard those that bolt early, since this is not a desirable characteristic. As with cabbage, you can encourage growth of the seed stalks by slashing with an 'X', cutting off the top half of the head, or by opening the leaves by hand.
Jerusalem artichoke: Has a “missionary zeal” for taking over the entire garden. Easy to grow; crammed with nutrition. Is neither an artichoke nor a native of Jerusalem. Go figure.
Key points from the book "Heirloom Vegetable Gardening"
(By William Weaver / 1997 / New York; Henry Holt & Co.)
If you live in N.E. Pennsylvania, this one is kept at the Scranton library. One drawback of this book/compendium is that it tends to be written for gourmets, culinary purists and devoted seed-savers, rather than folks trying to stick to the basics. Weaver places a strong emphasis on flavor, ornamentation, unique varieties, and storied history; I'm looking for nutrition and hardiness, among other characteristics necessary for post-shift survival. Still, the book makes a number of good points and contains doses of wisdom gained from dedicated hands-on experience. In addition, it's a book like no other in that you'll savor the author's passion for the peerage and history of vegetables and their seeds.
asparagus is almost as tricky as raising heirloom potatoes. Three or four years must pass before the plants are mature enough to produce harvests, and asparagus is disease prone.
- Open-pollinated vegetables over time have developed genetic diversities that fight back against weakening diseases.
- Freezing prolongs the viability of most seeds. (This is a point I was wondering about.)
- Lack of genetic diversity, or so the author claims, led to the potato famine of the 1840's.
- It is very surprising what can be accomplished without the aid of cold frames.
- Raising heirloom
The "Globe" variety is the easiest type of heirloom artichoke to cultivate.
In early America, pole beans were favored for the ease of drying the pods and their storability over the winter. All the common garden beans belong to the same species and thus can cross. Pole beans help fix certain nutrients into the soil. When trained up cornstalks, they can attack certain fungus growths in the corn roots. Keep different bean varieties at least 20 feet apart. When roguing (rejecting inferior plants for seed stock), don't just choose the best-looking plants. Choose the best-looking seeds as well, a technique used by American Indians. Buerre de Rocquencourt Bean (a bush variety) ripens in 55 to 60 days and may be harvested much younger. The Light Brown Zebra, a pinto bean, can be called "fail safe" and is recommended for beginner gardeners. Popular in New England, Low's Champion Bean (bush) is considered one of the best for short-growing-season areas (70 days). The Pea Bean (or Frost Bean) can produce late into the fall season. Scotia (or Genuine Cornfield Bean) is one of the best yielders of its type. It's a 90-day bean.
Indians often added ash of certain herbs to their stews, instead of salt. This alkaline action released the B vitamin in the corn.
Two varieties of lima beans should not grow in proximity unless they are caged or bagged. Lima beans dried when green will reconstitute themselves when soaked in water for 12 hours. "King of the Garden" lima is suited to northern climates, is productive over a long period of time, and vines come to crop in about 90 days. Red Lima is hardy and produces consistently over the summer.
In colonial America, there was a time of year called the Six Weeks Want -- from the end of January until the middle of March. This was the time when most stored vegetables were used up but planting had not yet begun. During this time, the sprouts from beets in cold storage were especially valued. A biennial, beets will not overwinter where the ground freezes hard. Select the best beets for seed and store in cool, damp sand until the next spring. If planted close together, good cross-fertilization will occur when they bolt to seed. Stake them to keep the seeds from touching the ground. The seed will remain viable for about six years. Will cross with chards, so separate them or else raise them for seed in alternate years. For beginners, three of the best beet heirlooms are Bassano, Egyptian, and the Early Blood Turnip Beet, which does well in a variety of climates.
Spinach beets can be overwintered where temperatures don't push much below zero degrees-F (under cover of hay). They'll produce heavily until a hard frost and then revive quickly the next spring. Will cross with beets and chards. Chards are too tender to overwinter outdoors. Keep them in a cool greenhouse so they don't bolt before spring. 'Swiss' is the hardiest of all the chards. Spinach beet can offer a constant supply of greens from May through November in parts of America.
Old varieties of fava bean, such as the Horse Bean (or English Bean) are rich in basic proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins.
Cabbages: Kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and heading cabbages are all variations of the same plant. When it comes to saving seed, this kinship is crucial. They are rich in the basic nutrients required by humans. Unfortunately, as biennials, they present special problems for the gardener. With cabbages, soil is everything, and fertility all the rest. Good cabbage land must be well-manured. The difficulty of overwintering cabbages has limited the availability of many varieties among seed savers. Pollen must be transferred from one plant to another, and a minimum of 10 plants is recommended for good genetic balance. For overwintering, the whole cabbage should be dug up and stored in a cool, but not overly cold place. A hut made of straw or cornstalks will do, with the cabbages placed into a shallow pit. Throw sod over the cornstalks for both insulation and protection from pests and animals. To save space, you can trim the cabbages down close to the stem before overwintering. Dig up the stem and root, careful not to cause damage. Store over winter in damp sand. Planted in the spring, the stems will produce sprouts and flowers from which seed can be saved. You might also try cutting the cabbage stem into quarters, making sure each section has roots, and plant it in sand in a cold frame over the winter. In the spring, the cuttings can be planted, eliminating the need to save the seed. This method can help avoid cross-pollination, too. The author suggests not saving seed from the cabbage family for more than three years.
Dwarf German Kale (Borecole) is extremely winter-hardy, is considered "reliable", and is easy to grow. Kale is not self-pollinating, so grow at least 10 plants close together for seed purposes. Kale can also be propogated by root cuttings.
Brussels sprouts can yield as many as 100 sprouts to a plant, but it's slow growing. Can be very difficult to grow.
Portugal Cabbage thrives in cool, showery weather. Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage is hardy, and it can thrive over the winter in a cold frame.
Carrots (biennials / must be overwintered): 'True Danvers' is hardy and does well in short-season areas. Select about 10 carrots in the fall for seed-saving purposes; prune off the tops, leaving about one inch of the stems. Store in a cold-shed, protected from freezing. Re-plant the carrots in the spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. The plants may grow as tall as four feet, so stake them to keep the seed off the ground. Once the flower heads (umbles) turn brown, snip them off with a scissors and dry them indoors. To collect the seed, you can roll the dry flower heads between your hands, over a sieve. With carrots, avoid saving early-bolting strains. Violet (or Purple) Carrots thrive in wet, heavy soil and prefer warmer climates. In addition, they can bolt to seed the first year. Early Horn Carrot is easy to grow in a wide variety of soils.
Celery: Red celery and soup celery are the easiest to grow, and both types are hardy. In the second year, once the plants flower and turn yellow, check the seed heads. When they turn brown, they may be rubbed onto sheets of paper. Dry the seed for two weeks before storing it in jars. It can remain viable for up to eight years. Golden Self-Blanching Celery works great for small gardens, stores well, and does well on damp ground. The more that Soup Celery is cut, the better it thrives.
Corn: For seed-saving purposes, there must be 200 seed-producing ears (100 plants) in the garden. Ripe, dry seed corn is taken from 25 to 50 of the very best to insure genetic diversity. It's always advisable to overplant, with a certain margin of loss anticipated. Black Mexican is well-adapted to smaller gardens, and has a relatively short growing period of 75 to 80 days.
Cucumber: Vines that produce small fruit are generally the most prolific. For seed, leave the cucumbers on the vine until they ripen -- usually they turn bright yellow or orange. Let the fruits hang on the vines another 15 days, even if they shrivel up a little bit. Separate seeds as you would for tomatoes (in the jar). The seed can remain viable for up to ten years.
Black Beauty Eggplant produces well in short-season areas. Produces eight to 10 fruits, but you have to pick them regularly to maintain productivity. Stake the plant because it can topple in a rain and you don't want the ripening fruit to touch the ground. Early Long Purple Eggplant is hardy and can be grown as far north as southern Canada.
Jerusalem artichoke contains free-glutamine and is high in free amino acids. It's productive and easy to grow. In the fall, after frost has killed the tops, the roots can be harvested as needed.
Saving seed from lettuce is easy on the one hand and messy on the other. Save from the lettuce most true-to-type, as well as the ones that bolt last. Seed is ready for harvest when the plants begin to yellow and the flower heads form feathers, like dandelions. Cut off the flower heads, turning them upside down in a brown paper bag. Let the seed mature about a month before removing it from the seedheads. Over a bowl, roll the dried flowers between your fingers, then separate the seed from the feathers and debris. Sift off the debris larger than the seeds. Then outdoors, blow on the seed to lift the light materials away. Seed can be saved for up to three years. Renew your supply often. You can harvest up to a half-cup of seed from eight to 10 lettuces. Seedlings can be planted in the garden after they grow the fifth or sixth leaf. Lettuce shouldn't be too crowded together. Like any other plant, it needs air circulation. In the low-light conditions post-shift, closely-planted lettuce won't get much light at all, cutting back on nutritional value, which is light-dependent.
Iceberg lettuce is one of our finest and most reliable lettuces. Silesia (or Early Cured Simpson Lettuce) is a nonheading lettuce that's quick-growing and very hardy. Hard freezing does not kill it. The Pennsylvania Dutch would plant it in August or September for harvest through December. Tomhannock Lettuce is a good hot-weather plant in northern regions, but it's generally grown in the fall. Slow to bolt, it's also hardy.
Melons can deteriorate quickly if seed quality is not maintained. Melons tend to like hot weather and sandy soil. Pruning is essential, and when done right, does more good than fertilizer. When the vines are about 2-1/2 feet long, remove the end buds. This will encourage lateral buds to form. Allow only one or two fruits to form on each vine. A few good fruits are better than a bunch of worthless ones. Earmark the melons that come on earliest as the ones for seed. This will encourage the plants to produce earlier and earlier each season. Seed stock must be allowed to stand for 20 days after the fruit ripens; as for all melons, this will increase rates of germination and seed viability. Properly matured melon seed can remain viable for up to 10 years. Different types of melons will cross, so growing one variety per year is the best way to maintain seed purity. Blenheim Orange Melon is well-adapted for cool, short-season regions, as is the Citron Melon (also called the Green Citron). The Green Climbing Melon is an early melon that ripens quickly when raised off the ground on a vertical frame. Jenny Lind melon is one of the most popular among seed savers, and it seems to thrive in places where other muskmelons prove difficult to grow. Murray's Pineapple Melon (green or red variety) is small and can be grown vertically, thus saving garden space. Each plant yields six to eight melons.
Okra adapts itself quickly to its environment. Relatively free from pests and disease, okra doesn't like the cold, so start seedlings early indoors. The seedlings are vulnerable to birds, so plant them after they've developed a number of leaves. It produces well, and continuous harvesting encourages even more production. The seed is ready when the pods begin to turn brown, splitting along the ribs.
By staggering the times of flowering on your seed stock, you can preserve seed purity much easier, an important precaution for smaller gardens.
Heirloom onions are mostly available as seed, not as onion sets. But if you can locate heirloom sets, grab 'em. Seed is planted in flats early in the season, then planted later in the summer. These will make sets that can be dug up, dried, and saved until spring, or overwintered in the ground. When transplanting the seedlings, trim the tops back a few inches to encourage root growth. This will also result in better onions sooner. Here's some Pennsylvania Dutch advice from 1838: "Store the onions all winter long near a warm stove, and plant them as usual in the spring. The onions will grow so large that each one will weigh more than a pound." When the tops of the onions begin to yellow, the seed can be gathered. All varieties of onions will cross with each other. Wethersfield Large Red Onion stores well. White Lisbon is a bunching onion that produces yields in 50 days.
Leeks can be transplanted early because light frosts will not kill them. Mussellburg Leek will do well in various regions and should be treated as a biennial.
All garlics should be planted in the late fall for best bulb development the next year. German Red (Rocombole), Inchelium Red, and Spanish Roja all store well. The Inchelium is productive, and the Spanish Roja needs cold winters.
Parsnips should be sown as early in the spring as possible, because the cold soil revives the seed from deep dormancy. Plant the seed soon after it ripens on the plant, for its viability is only one year. Unlike carrots, they can be left in the ground all winter. The leaves of parsnips can cause skin rashes on some people, so wear gloves. The Student variety produces consistently and its seed quality is the least likely to deteriorate.
Sugar Peas are tolerant of hot weather, and peas are an important source of vitamin E. You can start seedlings indoors until they are 4 to 5 inches tall, since at that point they're less appealing to predators. American Wonder is an early producer, but there are not many pods on each plant. It should be planted as a first crop in conjunction with later varieties. Raisin Capucijner will produce an abundance of peas in about 60 days. An old Celtic practice was to burn dead pea vines, providing the ground with potash. Dutch Gray is an excellent yielder, with four to five peas in each 3-inch pod. If peas are stored too long, they will never soften when cooked. If stored for over a year, they lose nutritional value. Tall Telephone is a popular heirloom, and as the name implies, can grow 7 to 8-feet high, needing strong vertical support.
Of all the vegetables in the garden, peppers cross-pollinate the most, though they are self-pollinating. Many pepper seeds are slow to germinate and should be started indoors. Stake large plants because the limbs are brittle and can be broken by heavy rains. To stagger the blooming and cut down on cross-pollination, prune the flowers from other nearby peppers until it's their turn. This way you can increase the varieties you grow in a smaller area. When removing seed, the oils in hot peppers can get under the fingernails, causing irritation. Buist's Yellow Cayenne Pepper produces all summer until frost, especially if harvested regularly. The small-fruited variety of Red Ruffled Pimento is a heavy producer throughout the summer. You can try ordering it through Seeds of Change, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When potatoes are propogated through cuttings, you're creating clones that contain all the inherent strengths and weaknesses of that variety, including diseases. The potato famine of the 1840s illustrates the importance of maintaining genetic diversity. At the time, the plant was generally inbred and therefore unable to resist widespread disease. This episode teaches us that in the long run, it's inadvisable to bypass the seed stage. Without proper storage, it's pointless to raise potatoes on a regular basis. Seed potatoes kept back from the previous year's harvest are cut into pieces, each with an "eye." The eyes produce shoots that develop into plants. At this point, the author mentions that raised beds thaw and dry out sooner than open fields, allowing earlier planting times. Potato skin can develop a barklike scab that can infect other root vegetables. To kill it, expose seed potatoes to sunlight for a few weeks. Optimally they'll turn green before you plant them, a practice the Pennsylvania Dutch employed. Green potatoes, even those with just a little patch of green, are poisonous. At storage time, potatoes remain dormant at cool temperatures. If you spot blight or wilt in your potato patch, destroy the vines by burning them. And don't touch healthy plants after handling sick ones. "Charlotte" is a small potato that's enormously productive and good in storage. It's a good variety for folks like me who are just starting out. And yes, potatoes do produce seeds that can be sown the next year. Be careful when digging, for damaged potatoes cannot be stored. Early Ohio Potato produces good yields on small patches of ground.
Pumpkin is merely a term of convenience, for there are only squash. Many of the vining squash will yield larger fruit if they're pruned and only three or four fruits are allowed to develop on each plant. Bush varieties are more prolific and will produce all season if harvested continuously. Look for orange eggs laid by squash beetles under the leaves. If your compost heap is near the garden, turn it over a few times during the winter to expose the beetles to freezing temperatures that will kill them. Hand pollination is the only method of assuring seed purity. Or, you can plant squash at three-week intervals, harvesting and destroying the plants of the same species as they come to fruit. To save seed, allow the fruit to ripen on the vine until the plants begin to die. Store the fruit in a cool, dry place; this will enhance seed viability. You can remove the seeds when you're ready to cook or eat the fruit. You can wash the seeds in a colander (another item we should save), and let them dry for two to three weeks. Place them in airtight jars in a cool, dark place. If properly stored, the seed can remain viable for up to six years. Autumnal Marrow Squash (Boston Marrow) ranks among the best for regions where the growing season is cool and short. If the fruit is gathered before frost and stored in a cool, dry place, it will keep into the following spring. Canada Crookneck squash stores extremely well -- sometimes two or three years without noticeable deterioration. Delicata Squash is a prolific producer, though it can spoil quickly in storage. Hubbard Squash is one of the most popular varieties in America, maturing in 115 days. Pattypan (Cymling) Squash is bushy, about 30 inches high, matures in about 55 days, and produces profusely until frost. Constant harvest will promote a continuous supply. Let the seed mature in the squash to ensure better rates of germination. Stored in a cool, dry place, it will keep for several months. (I'm getting the point now: Squash can be a good keeper for our non-growing seasons.) Pike's Peak (Sibley Squash) also stores well. Yellow Mandan (a pumpkin) produces abundantly.
Radishes once appeared on the early-American table at every meal. The Pennsylvania Dutch used to serve them for breakfast. They're easy to grow, and the number of heirloom varieties is large. A short-lived annual, they'll grow in almost any climate. Radishes are rich in vitamin C, and the leaves even more so. Radishes can be sown among onion sets with positive results, and can be harvested any time the roots are well formed. Heavy rains can cause them to crack, allowing insects to penetrate. To save seed, select your best radishes and replant them where they are to flower. Stake the stalks so they don't touch the ground, which would ruin the seed. They are outcrossing, meaning that several plants are necessary for the transfer of pollen. The seed remains viable for five years. Seed is ready to harvest when the pods are dry. Store for about a month, away from heat and light. The pods must be split open and the seed picked out by crushing the pods between your fingers. To maintain genetic diversity, mix the seed from various plants -- 20 is a good number. Black Spanish Winter Radish, as the name implies, is winter-hardy -- just throw straw over it during the cold months and it will become one of your first root vegetables of early spring.
Saladings: The Large Round Leaved variety of corn salad (a green) can withstand very cold temperatures, produces an abundance of seed, and contains vitamin C and carotene. For spring crops, plant the seed in September, and you can harvest for salads well into December. An American dialect name for dandelion is Piss-a-Bed. I like that. Shepherd's Purse is a hardy annual or biennial of the mustard family that's rich in vitamins and minerals, and is an important ingredient in folk medicine. Its name comes originally from a Celtic word meaning "rat's scrotum," while we're at it. Shepherd's Purse overwinters well for late-spring or early-summer greens. You plant the seedlings just after the threat of frost. Will produce an abundance of seed in late June or early July. Start these from seed in August in a shady spot, then plant in the September sun. Covered with straw through the winter, you'll have a continuous supply of greens most of the year. In fact, says the author, most cold-weather saladings can be maintained in full production this way. The seed is fine like sand, and can remain vital for up to six years. Early Winter Cress (Scurvy grass) is one of the few greens available during the depths of winter as a source of vitamin C. It can be harvested even on the snowiest days of January. If covered with straw, they'll stay crisp and green, taking the place of watercress as a garnish. They bloom for seed in early June, and the 3-to-4-feet plants must be staked and covered with some type of material so that birds don't pick the seeds clean. The cress produces abundant seed, with enough left over for the birds, who if you keep them happy will hang around to reduce your insect population in gratitude. Dandelion (a perennial) offers one of the richest sources of vitamins and minerals of all the garden greens. Keep your cultivated stock separated from the wild ones. Indian Cress (Nasturtium) is rich in vitamin C if eaten raw. It can be stripped daily for salads during the summer season. They grow six to eight feet tall, so they require trellising. Turkish Rocket is one of the hardiest of the winter salad greens. Shallot Cress is a form of pepper grass that remains green all winter. Malabar Spinach has thick, succulent leaves and thrives in hot weather. Red Shiso (Black Nettle) is more prolific and easier to grow than lettuce.
Determinate tomatoes come to fruit all at once, then stop bearing. The ones most likely to cross in a given garden are those with potato leaves, double flowers (found on beefsteak types), and currant tomatoes. All types of tomatoes should be kept at least 20 feet apart to insure seed purity. Never save seed from fruits produced by double flowers -- these are the ones most easily pollinated by insects. Save your seed from several different plants over the course of the season. Acme Tomato begins to bear in midseason and continues to bear heavily until frost. Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry Tomato comes to fruit early, remains productive until frost, and is somewhat frost-tolerant down to 28-to-32-degrees-F.
At one time, Americans were as enthusiastic about turnips as they now are about tomatoes. Turnips are rich in vitamin C and other nutrients not easily replaced by winter tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. They need about eight weeks of cool, moist weather, and are extremely sensitive to lack of water. A biennial, they should be overwintered in a cold environment with high humidity. They are out-pollinating, meaning pollen is transfered from one turnip to the next, not from flower to flower on the same plant. For good genetic balance, save at least 20 of your best turnips for seed. Seed is ready to harvest when the pods turn brown and brittle. Amber Globe Turnip is a hardy variety known for its durability in root cellars. Purple Top Milan Turnip is well-suited to cool, rainy conditions.
Crosnes are a perennial root vegetable that can withstand severe winters, but they like lots of sun. They are rich in vitamins and minerals. Earth Chestnut (Tuberous-Rooted Caraway) resembles parsley, can grow under the snow, and makes an excellent winter salad green. Evening Primrose is rich in nutrients, and it fares well in poor soil. A biennial, it's similar to a turnip and the root can be boiled before eating, though some might say this would diminish the nutritional value. The root of Scorzonera contains a large amount of vitamin E, and the leaves make a salad green. Skirret is an easy-to-grow perennial that prefers wet ground. They should be staked to keep the seed high and dry.
Watercress is a hardy perennial with vitamin-rich leaves. Often sowed aside streams, you can get higher-quality cress when planted in pots.
The cultivation of watermelons is less complicated than that of muskmelons. They need sunny conditions. Allow no more than three or four per vine, but to get large melons, pare it down to one. Will cross with citron melon, but not with cucumbers and muskmelons. Once dried (after about two weeks), the seeds are ready to store when brittle. Citron Watermelon (Red or Green Seeded, and the two types will cross) will store up to six months and are considered easy to grow and prolific. Seeds can be collected as the melons are taken from storage, and the best seed comes from those melons that keep the longest. Ice Cream Watermelon comes to fruit early and is adapted to cool-climate areas. King and Queen Watermelon will keep through the winter if kept in a cool, dry spot. Moon & Stars Watermelon bears a small fruit suitable for growing in limited spaces.
Some crops won't grow at all in any particular season, so that's why it's essential to maintain reserve amounts of seed.
In addition, the author mentions several sources for heirloom seeds. If I'm so inclined some day, I'll track down some of their web sites:
Bountiful Gardens / Willits, California
Cook's Garden / Londonderry, Vermont
Deep Diversity / Santa Fe, New Mexico
Filaree Farm / Okanogan, Washington
Fox Hole Herb and Heirloom Seed Co. / McGrann, Pennsylvania
Garden City Seeds / Victor, Montana
Good Seed Company / Oroville, Washington
Greenseeds / Bensenville, Illinois
Heirloom Seed Project / Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Heirloom Seeds / West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania
J.L. Hudson / La Honda, California
Johnny's Selected Seeds / Albion, Maine
Mellinger's / North Lima, Ohio
Native Seeds / Tucson, Arizona
Natural Gardening Co. / San Anselmo, California
Nichols Garden Nursery / Albany, Oregon
Peace Seeds / Gila, New Mexico
P.L. Rohrer and Bros. / Smoketown, Pennsylvania
Redwood City Seed Company / Redwood City, California
Seed Savers Exchange / Decorah, Iowa
Seeds Blum / Boise, Idaho
Seeds of Change / Santa Fe, New Mexico
Seeds Trust / Hailey, Idaho
Seeds West / Albuquerque, New Mexico
Shepherd's Garden Seeds / Felton, California
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange / Earlysville, Virginia
Tomato Grower's Supply Co. / Fort Meyers, Florida
Key points from "The Seed-Starter's Handbook"
(By Nancy Bubel / 1978 / Rodale Press / Emmaus, Pennsylvania, USA)
If you live in N.E. Pennsylvania, this one is available at the Scranton Public Library:
Year-round vegetable self-sufficiency is due in large part to starting seeds early indoors and making continuous outdoor plantings of varieties of food chosen for quality and ease of storage.
One purpose of the book is to help gardeners make the jump from dabbling to self-sufficiency. There's no one right way to do most of these things.
Raising vegetable plants from seed is a learnable skill.
You are always planning for the winter eating season. You select varieties of food with this in mind.
Varieties of plants offered by commercial vendors represent but a small fraction of what's available. To grow Caro Red Tomato, for instance, a vegetable high in vitamin A, you have to start from seed.
Choose your earliest indoor plantings judiciously. You don't want them past their prime when you put them out.
There is much we don't know about seeds.
Chilling a seed often breaks dormancy. So will exposure to light on occasion.
Dormancy is seldom a problem in home gardening, except for some heat-sensitive seeds like lettuce and celery.
Warmth, moisture, air and light are more important to germinating seedlings than the nutrient content of the soil. Therefore the mixtures you put your seeds in shouldn't be rich. In fact, it's better if they are not. Peat moss is too coarse a medium for small seeds, and it tends to crust.
Torn moss serves as an excellent liner for seedling containers. If you use it, you may not even need holes on the bottom of your container. Also, you can firm up the top surface of your planting medium (the soil mixture) with a flat object so the seeds don't tumble too far into the soil crevices.
Here's a good indoor potting mixture: Vermiculite or perlite + peat moss or sphagnum moss + potting soil.
On hard-coated seeds like New Zealand spinach, you can hasten germination by nicking the outer seed coat with a knife or file -- but don't damage the embryo. (Here's another good reason to stock up on files.) Presoaking can cut several days' germination time from slow-sprouting seeds like celery, carrot and parsley. Presoaking can help peas and beans too, but most seeds planted indoors don't need presoaking.
To disperse fine seeds, try using a salt shaker. For medium-size seeds, you can try a tweezers.
If you sow your indoor seeds in a flat (a wooden box), cover them with perhaps a damp newspaper. Set it in a warm place -- with ventilation -- to germinate.
The author describes a method of presprouting seeds by rolling them in a damp paper towel, placing the rolled towel in a plastic bag, and then laying it on a warm spot such as a refrigerator top. (If we presprout after the shift, we'll have to be creative and come up with alternative materials, of course.) These presprouted seeds can be placed in containers after a root develops but before the root hairs have a chance to tangle.
The most favorable soil temperature for germinating seeds is from 75 to 90 degrees-F (24 to 32-C). Also, most vegetable seeds are indifferent to the amount of light they receive during germination. If the soil has a high salt content, as with some seaside soils, that can block germination by drawing moisture from the seed. Also, lack of ventilation can lead to the formation of mold on the soil. If you do find mold, a little exposure to air should clear up the problem. The author suggests exposing the seedlings to light as soon as you see the "little elbows" of stems pushing through the soil surface. This is the most crucial time in the life of a sprout, and it must receive light and water.
Once a seedling is growing above ground, it needs less warmth than during germination. In short, start seeds warm and grow seedlings cool (50 to 55-F / 10 to 12-C). In fact, studies show that peppers and tomatoes raised in this fashion can produce earlier and more heavily. In addition, light requirements become more important than temperature requirements at this stage of a seedling's growth.
The author notes that superfluous seedlings are just like weeds -- competing for light, nutrients, moisture, and air. But don't just yank the extra plants out of the soil. This can damage neighboring roots. Instead, clip them with a small scissors.
Plants that should be transplanted once the seedling is viable: Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (carefully), celery (carefully), chives, eggplant, endive/escarole, leeks, lettuce, onions, peppers, tomatoes.
Because of easily-damaged roots, these plants should not be transplanted: Chinese cabbage, corn, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, root crops (except beets, turnips, and celeriac), squash.
If roots are long and thready, as with onions, they can be pruned to an inch or so, at the same time pruning the top growth to a commensurate level.
If you see one particular sprout coming up before the others, that's an indication of seed vigor and possible high yield.
When evaluating seedlings, root growth is as important as top growth. Look for a compact, well-developed root ball instead of a single spindly thread of a root.
To help prevent transplant shock, it's a good idea to moisten the soil before you remove a seedling from its initial container. The soil will cling to the roots better. Hold the seedlings by the first leaves, and move to the new container right away so you don't dry out the root system. This can happen in but a few minutes.
If any of your transplanted seedlings show signs of wilting, a day or two in a shaded, cool spot should perk them up.
Soil in containers dries more rapidly than soil in a garden. But a little bit of dryness in your container soil is OK from time to time since it forces roots to expand, looking for more water. Before watering seedlings, try to let chlorinated water stand overnight. Room-temperature water is best. And remember, the best potting-soil mixtures include moss or some other water-holding medium, plus perlite or sand to promote good drainage. If you notice green algae or fuzzy mold growing on the soil surface, your plants probably have more water and less air than they need. You can run a small fan in the area to increase ventilation, and you can hold off on water for a few days.
For the first three weeks, any fertilizer you give a seedling should be half-strength rather than full-strength. The author doesn't fertilize her seedlings until they've begun to develop their true leaves.
If your plants don't receive as much light as they should, keep the temperature low so the growth will be less spindly. At lower temperatures, plants can tolerate less light.
If you have limited space, you can plant seeds of a tomato such as Subarctic directly in the garden rather than raise your early tomato seedlings indoors. An old unused car can act as a substitute greenhouse during colder seasons. If you grow seedlings on windowsills, you can provide a reflective surface behind them to help produce more light for the leaves.
Flourescent lighting appears to be the most beneficial for seedlings, and you can achieve even better results by mixing the colors. For instance, use one warm-white and one cool-white bulb in each fixture. Incandescent bulbs, on the other hand, tend to generate too much heat. At the time the book was written (1978), one foot of flourescent-bulb used 10 watts of power. Flourescent lighting should provide 15 to 20 watts per square foot of growing area. A single tube of light is generally inefficient; the author recommends a double row of paired tubes, or in other words, four bulbs in parallel. Remember, dust on the tubes reduces efficiency, and the light is less intense at the ends. In combination with your lighting, use any kind of reflective material you can get your hands on, including items painted white (flat paint is preferred to glossy).
When deciding which plants to start early indoors, three of the deciding factors are: 1) Those that need a long period of growth to prepare them for setting out; 2) Plants that produce well over a long period; 3) Fine-seeded plants that might get lost in the garden soil.
In general, seedlings need more intense light than mature plants. If a young plant needs more light, you might notice a long stem develop before their first leaves emerge. (Either they're overcrowded or too far away from the light.) Because the light at the ends of the bulbs is weaker, it's a good idea to rotate the position of your seedlings.
Like people, plants digest and grow at night. And they do this better when their nighttime temperatures are a bit lower than their daytime temps. The point to remember is that darkness is just as essential to plant growth as is light.
Examples of succession planting include:
- An early planting of peas followed by a late planting of corn (early-maturing)
- Early cabbage followed by late beans
- Spring lettuce giving way to fall beats
- Early onions succeeded by fall lettuce
To begin the process of hardening off, slow down the growth of the seedlings in the final week indoors. You accomlish this by watering less often, withholding fertilizer, and keeping temperatures cool. If you're growing your seedlings in flats (boxes resembling the old-fashioned wooden crates that Coca Cola used to come in), you can "block them out." Basically this means slicing up the soil mixture as if it were a batch of new brownies fresh out of the oven. Each "brownie" (this is my own cheezy analogy, not the author's) is a seedling, and by slicing each one into a separate block, you encourage compact root-ball development that's good for transplanting. Once outside, keep the soil damp, and gradually acclimate the seedlings to sunlight -- adding a few hours each day, with the first couple days in a shady spot. Also, protect the seedlings from wind (even from strong breezes).
Setting out plants in the garden at the right time is a matter of good judgement. It's preferable to set out your transplants on an overcast, warmish day, rather than a sunny, breezy day. Sun and wind cause moisture to evaporate from the plant (a process known as transpiration), and the roots are initially hard-pressed to keep up with the plant's increased demand for more water. By the way, in one year an average tomato plant loses 35 gallons of water to transpiration! Water each plant as you plant it, and try to arrange the roots so they don't double back on each other. Once planted, form a saucer-like depression in the soil around the stem. This will help funnel water toward the roots, similar to the suggestion made by Mel Bartholomew in his book "Square-Foot Gardening."
In early spring, if you use tents of plastic sheeting to protect your young plants from wind, rain and frost, provide ventilation at the sides and bottoms. If you ventilate with slits on the top part of the plastic, you can lose too much hot air. If you plant in a cold-frame, you can place water-filled bags right on top of the glass. The water will provide additional insulation. The author also believes that placing several shallow pans of water in a cold frame or within a plastic shelter will help ward off frost. The reasoning is that one pound of water releases 144 BTU's when it freezes. Frost damages plants by forming sharp-edged ice crystals that puncture cell walls. But if you spray a fine mist of water on the plants before the sun hits them, you can often prevent this cell damage.
Pale leaves on newly set-out plants indicate sunscald, and protection is called for. As for wind protection, many country gardeners push old shingles into the ground to protect early cabbage.
Cold-frames are useful for:
- Starting seeds in early spring
- Hardening of spring transplants
- Late-summer plantings of fall vegetables
- Late-fall sowing of vegetable seeds that will come up in early spring
- Protecting summer lettuce from strong sun
A good width for a cold frame is about 3 feet. If it's much wider, it's more difficult to reach the plants growing in the rear. The thicker the wood, the better the insulation. On colder nights, you can cover your glass panel with anything you can find, in addition to tacking on a layer of plastic sheeting.
Here are some instructions for Building a Cold Frame.
After the shift, we can attach cold-frames to our living structures in such a way that heat is transferred from the structure to the frame.
An alternate type of cold-frame is to take two screen-door frames and form them into a tent-like structure. Cover them with plastic. Also, cover over each end of the structure -- either with wood or more plastic, adding ventilation holes.
When to mulch: As far as cool-weather crops go (lettuce, peas, cabbage, beets, carrots), begin mulching as soon as the seedlings look "as though they might amount to something."
"Manure Tea" is a natural means of providing fertilizer for crops. Place manure in a burlap sack (or just by itself, if need be), and set it inside a container such as a garbage can or barrel. Fill the container with water, cover it, and let it sit for a few days. Then dilute the mixture to the color of tea before pouring it around the base of your plants.
If you must thin out your plants, grab them while they're young so you don't disturb neighboring roots.
If you stake your plants, insert the stake at the seedling stage so you don't disturb the root system. In this regard, a trellis may work much better.
A rough schedule for seeding:
- Cool-weather crops get started indoors, as do tomatoes and peppers
- Earliest outdoor plantings of seed: Peas, dill, leaf lettuce, radishes, onion sets, turnips
- Next round: Carrots, beets, cabbage, fennel
- Mid-season "earlies": Parsnips, salsify, celeriac; later carrot, radish and lettuce plantings; early corn, New Zealand spinach, purple green beens, leeks, sweet onions
- After-frost plantings: Cucumbers, tampala, soybeans, green beans, corn, summer lettuce
- Warm-weather plantings: Melons, lima beans, squash, pumpkin, more corn
- Early-summer plantings: Kale, rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, endive, head lettuce, Chinese cabbage, winter radishes.
For centuries, some cultures have used seaweed -- as well as the ashes of seaweed -- to enhance the fertility of the soil.
Succession planting can double your garden's yield. Fall "takeover" crops, including carrots, Chinese cabbage, winter radishes and turnips, can be planted where an earlier-season crop has just finished. For other mid-summer plantings, the author finds it more efficient to start these either indoors or in flats in an open cold-frame: Brussels sprouts, escarole, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower. Later in the fall you can plant peas for spring. Also you can sow turnips, parsnips, lettuce, beets and other vegetables that flourish in cool weather and live over winter.
As mentioned earlier on this page, self-pollinating plants are the best bet for beginners. Self-pollinators include escarole, garden peas, endive, lima beans, snap beans, soybeans, and tomatoes.
Wind-pollinated plants include beets, corn, rye, spinach, and Swiss chard.
Most other vegetables are insect-pollinated. Cross-pollination occurs only within plants of the same species.
For those who intend to save seed, it's best not to grow more than one variety of the same vegetable in a given year. This is especially true for vegetables that are easily cross-pollinated. You can plant a new variety in a separate season.
When selecting which biennials to replant the following season, choose those that have stored the best. You will help carry over this characteristic to the next crop.
Among biennial vegetables, the best seed producers are those that are neither immature nor old & woody in the fall. The flower stalk that will grow tall and go to seed in the plant's second spring begins to form in the winter. A month or two of cold temeratures, no higher than 40 to 50 degrees-F (4 to 10-C), promotes seed stalk formation.
We know by now to pick seed from cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers when the fruit is overripe, before it begins to rot. One reason is that the seed may be damaged by the heat of decomposition.
If possible, seed collecting should be done on a dry, sunny day when the seeds are free of rain or dew. Frost doesn't hurt most seeds as long as they are dry, but you do want to collect them before a second frost.
The simplest seeds to prepare are those you pluck directly from the seedhead of the plant. These include lettuce, endive, dill, sunflower, and the brassicas (cabbage family). These just need to be winnowed and dried. (The process of winnowing can be found on other web sites.)
Snapbeans, soybeans, lima beans, and peas must be threshed to remove the seed from the pods.
Pumpkin, winter squash, and melon seeds may simply be washed to remove all traces of pulp, then dried.
Tomato and cucumber seeds must be separated from the flesh that surrounds them.
Dry all seeds at least a week, no matter how dry they already look. Seeds of most vegetables can be spread on newspapers in a dry, well-ventilated place.
Keep the garden weed-free all year, as this can affect the eventual vigor of seeds.
Also, studies show that storage conditions are more significant than the age of the seed when determining its viability.
In general, seeds store best at a temperature between 32 and 41 degrees-F (0 to 5-C).
Once a seed is dry, keep it dry, for it suffers irreparable damage if it needs to be dried again. A dry seed will withstand fluctuations in temperature that would deteriorate a damp seed. When drying seeds, don't let insects and rodents get near them. I see a problem here: How to keep seeds dry within a moist, post-shift environment where our living structures will be less than ideal.
Seed that's clean and free of trash, pulp, and rotten seeds will give bacteria, molds, and fungi less of a chance to grow.
Seeds stored in bulk tend to heat sometimes, so they should be stirred and rotated periodically.
Another major consideration: Stockpiling enough seed containers ahead of time. Glass won't do, as it will likely be destroyed during the shift itself. The author suggests screw-lid metal film containers as one good storage place for seeds. On the other hand, metal cans with plastic lids can be gnawed at by rodents.
For most seed varieties, allow about three weeks for germination.
If you notice a crop with a disease, you can soak the seeds in hot water when you harvest them.
When ordering seeds, note that disease resistance is particularly important with cucumbers and tomatoes. Generally, a "resistant" strain is less vulnerable to a disease than one that's termed "tolerant."
Also, the author mentions turning a cold-frame into a "hotbed" warmed by manure. Basically, you lay animal manure (she mentions horse and chicken) in a trench two feet deep, laying it up to six inches from the top of the soil. Hosing the manure down starts the process of decomposition, and then you lay six inches of fine soil on top of this. You'll reach your peak of heat within three to six days. Don't plant until the soil temperature falls to 85 degrees-F (29 C), and ventilate the bed as necessary so you don't fry your seedlings. Here are some directions for Making a Hotbed.
Now onto a few random notes for various crops:
Asparagus: To save seed, cut the ferny plant top when the berries are red, and hang it to dry. Soak the berries in water to soften the skin, then wash them and rinse off the pulp.
Snap beans: When they're ready for seed, you should hardly be able to make a dent in the bean with your teeth. Leave the pods on the plants until they're dry and brown and nearly leafless.
Beets: Will cross with Swiss chard. Cut off the tops, leaving a one-inch stub. Many people store the roots in sand in a root cellar over the winter. Generally harvested before the first fall frost.
Broccoli: The author likes "Green Comet" for the spring and "Waltham 29" for the fall. If you get an early start by raising seedlings indoors, you'll be able to harvest seed the first season. Cut the whole plant when the pods are dry. Pods need to be crushed and winnowed to remove the chaff. Here's a web page that discusses How to Winnow, among other matters related to beans.
Brussels sprouts: These might survive a non-severe winter and produce seed stalks. Treat them like cabbage. Storage in a root cellar is chancier, but possible.
Cabbage: Keep cellar-stored roots damp and cold. From the seed stalk, pick the thin, dry pods when they're brown. Or you can harvest the whole plant when the pods are yellow and let it dry further if you're saving a lot of seed. Seed tends to ripen gradually and fall off promptly when ripe.
Chinese cabbage: For most people, it might be best to consider this a fall crop only.
Cantaloupe: It helps to presprout the seed in a moist paper towel, kept warm.
Carrots: Large-cored varieties store better. When the second set of seedheads has ripened, that's the time to pick for seed. Small lots of carrot plants can be bagged to collect seed that would otherwise shatter, a process that happens about 60 days after flowering.
Cauliflower: As with other biennials, it needs exposure to cold weather to induce seed-stalk formation. However, it doesn't seem to like storage, nor does it like to winter over outside. One suggestion is to plant seed in a cold-frame in early fall. The plants that make it through the winter are set out after the last spring frost, and the yellow flowers that develop from the caulifower head are cross-pollinated by insects.
Celeriac: Store as you would beets.
Celery: Though a biennial, it may bolt to seed the first year if seedlings are chilled. Otherwise, in the fall, dig the plants carefully, because bruises will increase the chances of spoilage. Store the plants in soil in a root cellar, and keep them moist.
Collards: A member of the cabbage family, but unlike cabbage, will remain in the garden all season. Store it like cabbage, but they may prefer a cold-frame to a root cellar.
Corn: Make successive plantings 10 to 14 days apart. Early and late varieties that won't tassel at the same time may be planted a little closer than normal. Should be ready to harvest for seed about a month after it's ready for eating. Continue drying by peeling back the husks and hanging the ears in a well-ventilated place.
Cucumber: Leave the fruit on the vine until it turns yellow and grows fat. Frost won't hurt it, but pick it before it rots.
Dill: One of the easiest kinds of seed to save. Just let them dry on the plant and cut the heads off.
Eggplant: Harvest for seed when the fruit turns dull and perhaps a bit wrinkled. The author says that if you pick one for eating, the seed should be good if you let it sit on a counter for a few days. Many people ferment the pulp before extracting the seeds, but several experts say this isn't absolutely necessary.
Endive & Escarole: These are biennials, but they may perform as annuals if you plant them early and the summer heat causes them to bolt to seed. Harvest the seed and store as you would for lettuce.
Grains: You want to harvest the seedheads before rain beats them down, and a cold rain can make them sprout while still in the head. Grains should be well dried before they are picked.
Kale: Extra-nutritious, fast growing, virtually pest-free, it even tastes good after a frost.
Head lettuce: When transplanting outdoors, clip off all the outer foliage, leaving behind a one-to-two inch stub of small new leaves. If you don't remove the old leaves, they tend to draw off more moisture than they are worth. In fact, lettuce leaves are 95% water. Lettuce seeds are one of the few that germinate better when exposed to light. A single vigorous head of lettuce can bear as many as 30,000 seeds.
Leaf lettuce: It doesn't keep and can't be canned. Summer heat sometimes sends lettuce seeds into dormancy. To get around this, you can try:
- Exposing the germinating seed to light
- Refrigerating the seed for several days before planting
- Using old seed, which is less likely to maintain dormancy in hot weather
Okra: Let the seed pods ripen while on the plant. If you like it plump, get the Winfrey variety. (I couldn't resist throwing that in.)
Onions: Easily grown from seed. After harvesting in the fall, store your best bulbs in a cool, dry place over the winter. Where the winters aren't severe, you can leave the bulbs in the ground. In the spring, harvest when you see the black seed. The author suggests curing the seedballs for several weeks before gently rubbing off the seed. In storage, onion seed is particularly vulnerable to high temperature and moisture.
Parsley: Has a long germination time of three to four weeks -- sometimes even more. If you pour very hot water over the just-planted seeds, you may be able to speed up germination a bit. Parsley winters over fairly well, either in a cold-frame or under mulch. You might even want to bring a pot or two indoors for the winter and then replant in the spring.
Parsnips: The seed is notoriously low in vitality, but the frost-proof roots can make it through the coldest days of fall and even winter. The following year, gather the dry brown seed as it matures. In Pennsylvania, for instance, that should be around the end of July.
Peanuts: Spanish peanuts are the best choice for northern gardens. They are small but more prolific and earlier maturing. When ready for harvest, dig the vines and let them cure in an airy place that's not too bright. If they're stacked too close and are damp, you're asking for blight and mold.
Peas: The yield of peas maturing in warm weather seldom justifies the space they take. One exception to this is Wando Pea. Don't let sugar peas cross with regular peas.
Peppers: The seed is ripe when the fruit is red. If they don't turn red before frost sets in, ripen them indoors.
White potatoes: Should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. A later planting in mid-or-late spring will produce fall potatoes. When cutting seed potatoes, aim for two eyes for each cut piece. Before planting, let the pieces dry for a day or two so the surface can heal over. That way they're less likely to rot in the ground. You can also nudge the unsprouted seed potatoes into growth by exposing them to light for a few weeks in a cool room. When planting, place the pieces cut-side down. You can also plant small whole potatoes saved from the previous year's crop. When harvesting potatoes for seed purposes, cure them for a week or two. It's OK if they turn green, as long as you don't eat them. Potatoes keep best at 34/35 degrees-F (2 degrees-C). Some potatoes sprout a poisonous seedball that resembles a tiny green tomato. If you dry these seeds and plant them the following year, you'll end up with a few egg-size potatoes, a size that's good for replanting whole.
Pumpkins: Will not cross with melons or cucumbers. Collect seed from fully-ripened fruits that have developed a good, hard rind. If you find any flat seeds, throw them away, since they lack embryos.
Radishes: Summer radish is an annual; winter radish a biennial. When the seed pods turn yellow, pull the plants and store or hang in a dry place to cure. Like beets, winter radishes are stored and replanted the next spring.
Rhubarb: Division of roots is easy and dependable with this perennial, and you can clip off the seed stalk to conserve the plant's strength. You can probably produce better results from root propagation than growing from seed.
Rutabaga: Like other members of the brassica family, the seeds of this biennial shatter easily. 'Shatter' is a gardening term meaning "the prompt dispersal of seeds as soon as they are ripe." For dummies like me, 'shatter' means "if you don't watch out, they'll be flying all over the freaken' place."
Salsify: Even in colder climates, you should be able to winter over your salsify outdoors under a layer of mulch. Treat the seed crop like that of parsnip. Harvest each seedhead individually as it ripens in succession,
Soybeans: In colder climates, you can go with the Altona variety, which matures in 100 days. The seed is mature when it starts to yellow and toughen. You can cut the plants when the pods begin to break open. Thresh the beans and let them dry on a screen for a couple weeks.
Spinach: In many areas, fall-planted spinach that has grown an inch high will winter over under a cover of straw, hay, or other type of mulch. When you plant in late summer, sometimes the seed is reluctant to germinate. You can coax the seeds by rolling them up in a damp paper towel, sticking the towel in a plastic bag, and letting it sit in the refrigerator for five to seven days. An annual, pick the seeds in the summer after they've ripened on the plant, avoiding the plants that ripened the earliest or are undersized.
New Zealand spinach: Thrives in hot weather, but needs exposure to temperatures lower than 55 degree-F (13-C) to germinate well. To hasten sprouting, you can soak the seed in lukewarm water overnight.
Summer squash: You can presprout indoors, but they don't transplant well. You can collect seeds from winter squash when you're ready to eat them. However, zucchini and other summer squash should be allowed to ripen and harden for about eight weeks after they're ready to eat. Eliminate lifeless seeds by floating them off in water -- the good ones will sink. Dry them for a couple weeks on a screen.
Sunflowers: Choose the ones you want to save for seed, then tie netting over them or else the birds you beat you to it. Cut the head from the stalk when the seeds are dry, and then dry for a few more weeks in a well-ventilated place. Then rub off the seeds and screen & winnow them to remove the chaff. Some people discard (or eat) all but the plumpest seeds.
Swiss chard: This biennial will often winter over in the ground with protection, and will cross with beets and sugar beets.
Tomatoes: For prompt germination, keep your seed mixtures near a temperature of 80 degrees-F (27-C). After transplanting into larger containers, keep these near a temperature of 60 (16-C). From your best plants, pick the best fruits when they are slightly overripe. Follow the well-known procedures for fermenting the seed/pulp mixture.
Turnips: Early-planted turnips will form seed the same season. Fall-planted turnips will survive a mild winter and produce seed the next year. Will cross with mustard and Chinese cabbage.
Watercress: Once established, it's easy to propogate new plants from cuttings of this perennial. These root quite easily. If you want a lot more watercress, gather the seedpods when they ripen in the fall. If you designate a few watercress for seed-saving, they'll form seed sooner if you refrain from harvesting the leaves.
Watermelon: Rinse the seeds and spread them out to dry for a week.
After the shift, we may be forced to grow crops in protected enclosures. If so, we won't have wind and insects to pollinate plants, so we'll have to become proficient at pollinating plants ourselves. Therefore we'll need to carry some good literature with us that describes pollination techniques as well as comprehensive listings on growing cycles, seed-saving techniques, compatibility tables, plus information regarding how to avoid unwanted cross-pollination among our vegetable crops.