Field and Farm

By DANNY CAIN, Walker County Extension Agent
Posted 7/15/18

FALL MASTER GARDENER CLASS OFFERED FOR 2018The Walker County Extension Office will be offering our 2018 Master Gardener Course beginning on August 30 and running for 12 consecutive weeks through …

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Field and Farm



The Walker County Extension Office will be offering our 2018 Master Gardener Course beginning on August 30 and running for 12 consecutive weeks through November 15, 2018. Each class will be taught at the Extension Office auditorium from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Home vegetable production, home orchards, soils and fertilizers, native plants, annuals and perennials, plant propagation, weed control in home gardens and landscapes, plant diseases and insects, home turfgrass, and backyard wildlife are just a few of the topics which will be covered. The registration fee is $125, which includes all class supplies, instruction, and a copy of the newly updated Master Gardener Handbook. 

We will be accepting registrations through Friday August 24, 2018. If you are interested in participating in our Master Gardener Course, please contact us at the Walker County Extension Office at 205-221-3392 for more details and for assistance getting registered for the upcoming class.

One of the common gardening questions that I get about this time of year (in addition to “when is the Master Gardener Class”) is from home gardeners who wish to save their own seeds. This year has been no exception.

Like most home gardeners, you have probably been busy harvesting and preserving all those summer vegetables from this gardening season. Many gardeners have asked me about saving the seeds produced in your garden. Saving seeds was once more important than it is today, in fact, saving garden seeds and swapping them with neighbors used to be the only way to make sure we had a garden for the next year. Many heirloom varieties have been lost and forgotten because gardeners have failed to save seeds. Seed companies may have stopped selling your favorite variety or it may have even been replaced by a more recent variety introduction, probably a hybrid variety.

The key to successfully saving seeds lies in knowing which crops and varieties bear seeds that will produce plants similar to the parent plants. After all, the idea behind saving tomato seeds is to get high quality tomatoes next year. Understanding a few terms will be helpful in determining which seeds to save.

Hybrid seed is produced through controlled pollination using two specific varieties that have been inbred, or self-pollinated for many generations to produce certain traits such as disease resistance. The parent plants may have weak growth or other poor characteristics, but when they are crossed, their seed produces desirable plants or fruit.

Only the first generation of seed resulting from the cross of the parent plants will produce the desired combination of traits. Future generations will probably revert back to the undesirable traits of the parent plants. Hence, the first rule of seed saving is never ever save seeds from a hybrid plant.

This does not mean that seed from all non-hybrid plants can be saved and planted with good results. If the non-hybrid is self-pollinated, the seed will produce plants similar to itself and will be good candidates for seed saving. Some popular garden plants that are self-pollinating include tomatoes (non-hybrid varieties anyway), peppers, beans, peas, and lettuce.

If the plant is pollinated by neighboring plants of a different variety, such as cucumbers, corn, and squash; any seed produced will be of mixed parentage and will produce mixed results. Since pollen can be carried long distances by insects or wind, limit your seed saving efforts to self pollinated, non-hybrid vegetable varieties.

Many people also ask me about saving seed from fruit and nut producing trees such as apples, pears, pecans, and others. Actually it is entirely possible, and fun, with a little care to save the seed and get them to germinate and grow into a tree that will produce fruit or nuts. Here is where the problem lies though. Remember that many fruit and nut producing trees are cross pollinated so the offspring from the seed you plant probably will not be like the parent tree from which you harvested the fruit or nuts.  It takes several years for a seed to grow and get mature enough to produce fruit, so after several years you may be somewhat disappointed with a tree that produces inferior fruit or nuts or at least a tree that produces fruit that is different from what you wanted.

Gourds are a crop that I make an exception for. Remember that gourds are open pollinated so that if you save their seeds, the resulting crop may not be exactly like the original parent crop. Then again that’s half the fun if you are raising gourds just for decoration or for the enjoyment of it. As a kid I used to save gourd seed from year to year and had some pretty interesting combinations!

Many ornamentals can also be propagated by saving seeds. Zinnias are a great example of an easy ornamental plant to collect and grow from seed. My mom used to save seed from her cleomes and cosmos as well as well. Many other seeds can be saved and collected as well including many woody ornamental species such as crape myrtle, oakleaf hydrangea, buckeye, and even oaks trees.

Once you determine that you have plants with seed worth saving, harvest your seed properly. Fruit must be fully ripe; for tomatoes, that means riper than you would prefer for eating. Peppers may begin to shrivel when they are completely ripe, but don’t wait until the fruit begins to rot. Remove the seed from the flesh and allow it to air dry.

Seeds such as beans and peas that grow in pods are easy to process. Pick the pods as they dry, but before they shatter. Allow the seeds to dry thoroughly in a warm spot out of direct sunlight (this usually takes two to three weeks), then package the seeds in envelopes or jars and store them in a cool dry spot.  If you are using glass jars for storage, check the sides of the jars for condensation after a few days in storage. If condensation is present, remove the seeds from the jar and allow them some extra time to dry before long term storage. Weevils may be a problem in stored pea and bean seed. Weevils can be controlled by adding one level teaspoon of five percent malathion dust per pint of seed. Make sure the jar lid is on tight and shake the jar to distribute the dust throughout the jar. Make sure you label the treated jars “For Seed Use Only Not For Human Consumption,” and do not store your treated seed near any seed being saved for food or animal feed.