Monday, 5 May 2008


I am re-posting this because at the time I wrote it I posted so much stuff it probably wasn't read. I have added more too.

I don't know why I haven't read every page of this book by Michel and Jude Fanton before. Rather, I have previously just skimmed through it and picked out what information I was after at the time. Over the ANZAC long weekend I read it from cover to cover here are some useful pages I would like to share:

Chapter 4 on purity and production gives 5 useful observations, after explaining about self- and cross-pollination and the presence of dominant genes :
  1. Two different kinds of lettuce will typically cross from 1 - 5 %
  2. A tomato will cross with a tomato from 1 - 5 %
  3. A capsicum will cross with a capsicum from 9 - 38% depending on variety
  4. Hot chillies will typically cross up to 4 times more than sweet capsicums
  5. Okra crosses from 4 - 42% depending on variety

Chapter 5 on selecting and collecting is also excellent and here are some tips I thought useful :

  1. First of all it is written by people who, like me, can be in love with their vegetables -"gardeners who are in love with a particular variety and who intend to save seeds regularly should decide how many plants.." they need to keep for the purpose.
  2. The aim is to maintain a fair degree of variation. This is essential for the crop to adapt to changes in soil, cultivation methods, latitude etc etc Don't just select for one characteristic exclusively.
  3. For self-pollinating plants such as tomato, lettuce, bean or pea only 1 - 6 plants need to be reserved. If you intend to save the same variety year after year you must save from several plants.
  4. For cucurbits such as pumpkins, melons and cucumbers they recommend at least 6 fruits, preferably from different vines, be kept, if possible.
  5. The female parts of broccoli, kale, mustard and turnip have a chemical barrier to pollen that comes from the male part of the same plant. Therefore, you must let more than one go to seed to collect viable seeds.
  6. Fruits that have seeds in pulp, like tomatoes and eggplants etc should be picked when the fruit is turning soft - ie after the stage at which you would eat it.
  7. For fruits eaten mature eg capsicums, pumpkins etc pick as for eating or soon after.
  8. Fruits picked immature like cucumbers, okra etc must stay to reach full size plus another 3 weeks for seeds to mature.
  9. Where seeds are the part you eat eg broad beans, corn, sunflowers they should be left to completely dry on the plant.
  10. For plants whose seed pods tend to shatter, like lettuce, carrots etc harvest as they become ripe or even tie into a bag to catch the seeds.

I said to Roger, at page 34, "This book is getting so exciting! I wonder what's going to happen next!!" We laughed uncontrollably for some time; am I crazy to find this more exciting than fiction? I have told this to a few friends and get a smile....until yesterday when I said it to someone who grows everything, like me, and she laughed so much and I laughed all over again and we both couldn't stop.Nice.

In chapter 7 are some suggestions to avoid crossing:

  1. Separate varieties of lettuce by a tall crop.
  2. Separate tomatoes by a row of beans on a trellis.
  3. Beets will cross - ie silver beet and beetroot and those coloured-stem varieties that, for some reason, are labelled as (rainbow) chard.
  4. Basically, grow only one variety of watermelon, one rockmelon, one cucumber, one squash and one pumpkin.
  5. Stagger the sowing of corn to early September, the early November and then early January, if your growing season is long enough.

Many older pumpkin growers in Australia agree that a three year old seed gives more female flowers than a fresh seed. This is worth trying as it is a constant irritation, isn't it, and pricking off the growing tips and so on only works to a limited extent, in my experience. More often it is just luck of the draw so maybe this is why. Buy seed today and wait for 3 years to sow it - I am going to try this. One self-sown butternut style pumpkin of mine has had 99% female flowers this year and barely a male. I have never heard of that happening before.

The Seedsavers Handbook can be ordered online from their website.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

An excellent book, we should all read it!.
We are so slack with our seedsaving, the rocket we planted grew to be fenugreek, great for me as the leaves (menthe) are great added to curries.