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Saving Seed

saving capsicum seeds

Isn’t sex an amazing thing?  That chromosomes split and crossover to create a totally new and unique being? Not once, but every single time, so that every single life is totally unique. Every single life on this whole planet not just now but that has ever existed. That is just so breathtakingly ambitious! And that, at the same time, out of all those googols of pilots, evolution has such a nuanced and sophisticated mechanism for selecting not just the ones worth repeating the split and crossover, trying more combinations based on them, but also the ones worth a long shot.

When I stop waxing lyrical though, the practical result of all this is that every single seedling is different, as different as brothers and sisters (or more likely second cousins once removed).  As different as two puppies from the same litter, even though humans have been selectively breeding dogs about as long as most crops.

Which means that, when I find a good variety, that works well in my microclimate and is resilient in the context of the little ecosystem that is my garden, I try very hard to remember to save seed.  Not always successfully. Remember this post? It’s nearly pea planting time again, and I still haven’t found the climbing, powdery mildew resistant variety of snow pea I lost year before last.  I’m still kicking myself.

These capsicums have done so well.  They are thick walled and sweet like the familiar California Wonder capsicums in the supermarket, but they are much squatter in shape.  The bush is slow to grow and it doesn’t bear huge quantities, but it bears over a long period, and the capsicums are resistant to the fruit fly that bugs us in summer.

Capsicums are “perfect flowers” – which just means the flowers have both male and the female parts, so it is most likely that it has fertilised itself.  Bees will cross pollinate them though, and I have several varieties of Capsicum annuum species in the garden including chilis and banana peppers, so there is a bit of potential for surprises in the next generation.  I’ve tried to minimise it a little by saving seed from several individual fruits from several plants, and by keeping only this variety in this bed, and several of them, but you really need to keep hundreds of metres distance between varieties to ensure purity.  But since I’m not selling these, just saving them for myself and to give away (as insurance against losing the variety), and since I’m not too averse to surprises (sometimes they are nice ones), I’m happy to take the risk.

I’ve just simply washed the seed to remove any flesh and dried it in the shade on my verandah till the seed is crisp-dry, then put it in a recycled paper envelope in my seed tin, labelled with the variety and the date.

The reduced cost of buying seed is a minor benefit.  The major benefit is that I have a better chance of getting some of those really nice chromosomes again next year.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial April 5, 2011, 7:30 am

    Lovely post, Linda!

    We didn’t have much luck with caps this year, but surprisingly the eggplants were spectacular. I thought they were the same family, so it surprises me that one did so well and the other didn’t.

    A question you might be able to answer – a friend told me that commercial growers spray capsicums with roundup to force them to go red – apparently the fruit only reddens as the plant dies. Is there any truth in that, or is it just a rumour? Thanks…

  • Linda April 5, 2011, 8:22 am

    I’ve never heard that one Celia. The fruit goes red as it matures – these capsicum plants have had dozens of red fruit all summer and they’re not dead yet! But there could be something to it – there is often a germ of truth in rumours. Commercial growers of most vegetables look for determinate varieties – which means the fruit is bourne on the terminal or end bud – ie the last one. That means all the fruit comes on at the same time and then the plant dies. It’s much more efficient for picking, packing and selling. Home growers look for indeterminate varieties – which means the plant keeps putting out new fruiting buds along its branches, fruiting over a much longer period. Indeterminate varieties often bear much more over time, but they occupy the space for much longer. I can imagine that a commercial grower who had most of his capsicums red and ready to pick, and the plant was going to come out straight after anyhow, might well spray kill the plant and force the ripening along. Roundup is the least of your worries though in terms of eating poisons (frogs don’t think the same – it’s horrible in waterways, or at least its surfactant is). The sprays used for fruit flies are much more of a worry.

  • Jason Dingley April 5, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Wow! I am so please I stumbled across your blog. You are a big celebrity in our house at the moment. And this post strengths my fanship. I find you have a deep understanding of nature and a way of communicating it that resonates so well with me.

    Your book “Permacultre Home Garden” has recently been a massive inspiration to our garden. So much so that we demolished our entire existing one and started again. We love our new mandala, that I recently started blogging about, so thank you.

    Regards to chromosomes, we had some interesting results with a zucchini. And regards to sex, yes it is amazing.

  • Linda April 5, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Thank you Jason. I’m blushing. :*-) I’m glad you like your mandala. It was a system that served me well for many many years, and that, if it wasn’t for bandicoots et al I’d still be using!

  • Nikki April 6, 2011, 11:40 am

    Hi Linda! I’m glad I stumbled upon your website too – it was actually title that drew me here, I had no idea it was you! You may not recall, but maybe 4 years ago you commented on my blog (I’m in NZ) because my son was posing with a handful of eggs just like your son was on the cover of your book lol 🙂 Anyway, nice to remeet you.

  • Linda April 6, 2011, 2:28 pm

    Hi Nikki, me too. I love the title of your blog. A Delight Filled Life it is.

  • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial April 7, 2011, 5:53 pm

    Thanks Linda! And speaking of frogs, still none in the pond, although I keep checking.. 😉

  • Linda April 8, 2011, 8:53 am

    Wonder why? They should have found such a gorgeous pond by now. Are your boys too big to be interested in tadpole catching? You could take a net down to some local creek and catch some.

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