Seed Saving: How to Save Squash Seeds
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Saving Squash Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds
Saving our own seeds is the ultimate act of gardening resilience. It’s also a lot of fun. We can produce seed of much higher quality than what we can usually buy. In addition, by doing selection properly, we can improve each variety and shape it so that it better fits our growing conditions, tastes, and purposes. We can enjoy a glorious bounty of seed. We can over-sow cheerfully, saving ourselves considerable work in the process. We can have seed enough to share, seed enough to give away, and in some cases, even seed enough to sell. Buffalo Bird Woman normally traded a single string of seed ears of corn for a tanned buffalo robe. Seed is valuable. Knowing how to save seed is one of the most valuable of gardening skills. Good seed is the ultimate high-value garden crop.
There are four basic aspects to seed saving. One is just the physical processing of the seed. Many people think of this as the primary aspect. It isn’t. Learning to clean squash and dry squash seed just gets you some seed that will grow some something or other. The squash or pumpkins that result may be nothing like the plant the seed fruit came from; the fruits may not even be edible. The primary aspect to seed saving is controlling pollination so that the seed you save is pure seed of the variety you want.
If I just go save seed from a random squash of, say, ‘Sugar Loaf–Hessel’, from my squash patch, that seed will not be pure SL–H in most cases. SL–H is a member of the species C. pepo. It can be fertilized by pollen from any other plant that is of the same species, that is, any other C. pepo. Nate and I grow several different C. pepo varieties and have breeding projects involving pepos. Bees buzz all over the entire patch. Each flower gets visited by bees repeatedly—dozens of times, in fact. (Flowers do not release their pollen or nectar all at once, and bees are competing with other bees for every little bit.) Some of those bee visits are likely to be by bees that recently visited one of our other pepo varieties. In addition, bees do not honor human property lines. They can also visit the squash patches of neighbors. The fruit and seed that represent crosses with other varieties looks exactly the same as the pure seed.
So, to ensure pure seed of SL–H, we need do one of two things. One option is to grow no other pepo except SL–H. This is generally necessary when we want to produce lots of seed, as for commercial sale. For this to work, we must also be far enough from neighbors who are growing other pepos. If we are far enough from squash-growing neighbors, this means we can grow one pepo, one max, and one moschata without any fear of cross-pollination between the varieties. Only varieties within the same species cross. If I want to sell squash seed and have a relatively isolated garden, I could grow, for example, ‘Sugar Loaf–Hessel’, ‘Sweet Meat–Oregon Homestead’, and ‘Waltham Butternut’ without any fear of their crossing, so as to produce and sell pure seeds of all three and have three different squash to eat.
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