Seed Saving: How to Save Squash Seeds
(Page 7 of 9)
Selection is considerably less obvious than one might think. At its best, it reflects our concept of the essential nature of the variety as well as our own values and our own essential nature. I cover various aspects, surprises, and subtleties of selection in much greater detail in my book, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving.
Another issue in seed saving is numbers. How many plants should we save seed from? Clearly, if we save seed from just one fruit of one plant, that isn’t enough. Something could go wrong with that one hand-pollination. (Occasionally bees bite into taped flowers late in the season, for example.) In addition, if one parent carried an objectionable mutation, all our seed would be affected. We are usually told to save seed from twenty to one-hundred or more plants, depending upon the species. Twenty is the more relevant number for squash. However, nobody I know does this for squash unless they are selling seed. Especially not with big-vine types. I don’t either, usually. Though I do the equivalent. Basically, I cheat.
There is a trade-off between the total numbers of fruits we keep seed of and our ability to evaluate properly which the best parent plants are. I think it is more important to evaluate and choose the parent plants as well as possible rather than save seed from a larger number of plants and fruits. I’m pretty happy if I get about five fruits representing mostly different male and female parents (say seven to ten different parent plants). However, the next year, instead of using my new seed, I may grow up more of my old seed and get another five good fruits representing a different seven to ten parents. And the following year, I might start with that original seed and get another few good hand-pollinations from the best plants of that year. There is no rule that says you have to do your entire round of seed saving all in one year.
For plenty of varieties, I only grow half a dozen plants per year. I hand-pollinate whichever happen to be ready when I’m doing hand-pollinations. If one or more fruits turns out to be a hand-pollination of a good mother with pollen from a good father, I save the seed. If not, I don’t. I just plant another five the next year. Over a few years, I end up having saved seed for the next cycle from five fruits with somewhat more than five parents. And that is generally good enough, especially if I have a permanent stash of earlier seed I can go back to if it isn’t good enough. This approach allows saving seed from many varieties without doing a lot of work.
I don’t normally combine seed from different hand-pollinations. Every fruit is a separate lot, and I keep all the lots separate. When I plant the seed, I also record the exact lot. That way, if there are any problems, they become apparent. And if one lot is giving me especially nice results, it gets identified.
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