Choosing the right seed. Get your favourite variety!
Many vegetable varieties are easy to propagate in the garden. This gives you broad diversity and ensures you have precisely those varieties available to you that thrive particularly well in your garden. The only requirement is that you choose non-hybrid varieties.
Gardening begins with the right choice of seed. Experienced gardeners know that having access to good varieties is the key to the successful cultivation of plants. The main concerns are great flavour and reliable germination, but also the question of whether varieties are well suited to site conditions.
The key to promoting diversity is to use fertile varieties that produce viable seed. These varieties will pass on their characteristics to the next generation in a continuous hereditary line. Fertile varieties are the opposite of hybrid varieties. The latter have "built-in" biological variety protection that renders such heredity impossible. Hybrid varieties no longer produce new cultivars and varieties can only be produced by commercial growers in a set of elaborate steps – often using various biotechnologies. The easiest way for a gardener to play a part in the process of creating and developing crops is to consistently avoid planting hybrids. The choice of organically cultivated fertile varieties is growing year-by-year.
Harvest seeds yourself
If you want to save seeds for yourself, I recommend following two principles. Firstly: only collect seed from the most beautiful and most productive healthy plants. This means you should avoid harvesting your biggest, most tightly-leaved head of lettuce and instead mark it with a stick and let it flower and produce seeds. Secondly: many types of vegetable are so-called cross-pollinators. This means they can cross-pollinate with another variety that flowers at the same time. Sometimes this can be an interesting experiment that gives rise to a brand new variety. However all too often the result is completely useless. The bitterness of ornamental gourds can cross over into good squash varieties. A kohlrabi plant that has crossed with a white cabbage will fail to produce either a fine, tender tuber or a satisfactory head of leaves. Or you may find that a mild red pepper suddenly turns hot and spicy. In other words, it takes a bit of know-how before you can reap the benefits of good sowing practices over the coming years. If you are an absolute beginner in growing from seed, you would do well to consult the Handbook of Nursery Gardening (Handbuch Samengärtnerei). This book, published by Austria's Arche Noah group, summarises the almost lost art of seed propagation. Find out how to conserve varieties. Exciting reading for the long winter evenings!
VIKING gardening expert
Many gardeners have been surprised and delighted by the beautiful flowers produced by the cauliflower plant.
Historical drawing showing lettuce selection in 1913 (Image Böttner)
Seed harvesting from cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)
Those who concern themselves with seed selection have good chances of enjoying appealing results in the garden.