Pumpkins, courgettes, marrows and squashes
Beware that pumpkins, squashes, marrows & courgettes will all cross readily with each other. The best (usually only) way to save pure seed on a home scale is to hand pollinate one or more fruits. This is very easy & will avoid disappointments with lumpen squash/courgette crosses. The explanation given here is for pumpkins, but applies equally to squashes, courgettes & marrows.
Pumpkin plants have two different types of flower, male and female. The female flowers are the ones that will grow into pumpkins. They can be identified by the small immature fruit which should be obvious beneath the flower. Male flowers just have a straight stem. You need to transfer pollen from a male flower into a female flower, making sure that no pollen gets introduced from plants of a different variety.
One evening, when the plants are just beginning to produce flowers, find some male and female flowers that are going to open the next day. Buds that are just ready to open are much fatter than the others, and they have turned from green to yellow.
You need to stop these flowers opening, so that insects can't get into them. The easiest way to do this is to gently slip a thin rubber band over the end of the petals, to hold them shut.
The next morning go back to the plants. Pick a male flower, take off its rubber band, and tear off the petals. Gently take the rubber band off of one of your female flowers. Using the male flower like a brush, rub the pollen on to each section of the stigma in the centre of the female flower.
Then carefully rubber band the female flower shut again so that no insects can get in with more, 'foreign', pollen. Tie a piece of wool loosely around the stem of the female flower, so that at harvest time, you know which pumpkins you have hand pollinated.
Now leave the pumpkins to develop and ripen. After you have harvested them, keep them in a cool dry place for another month or so to ripen further indoors.
Then cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds, leaving the rest of the fruit for cooking as normal. Wash the seed in a colander, rubbing it between your hands to get rid of the fibres, and then shake off as much water as possible.
Spread the seed out on a plate to dry. It needs to dry as quickly as possible, but without getting too hot, for example on a sunny windowsill. To test whether the seeds are dry enough, try bending one in half. If it is dry, it will snap rather than bending.
Melons & cucumbers
All varieties of melon will cross. Ideally, you need around a quarter of a mile between different varieties. If your melons are in a greenhouse or tunnel, you can probably get away with a somewhat smaller distance, particularly if there are hedges, houses or other tall barriers in between your melons and the neighbouring crop. Cucumbers won’t cross with melons, but will cross with any other cucumbers or gherkins nearby. Again, you need around a quarter mile isolation to make sure that your plants won’t cross.
It is possible, although fiddly, to hand pollinate both melons and cucumber flowers. Grow plants under a fleece tunnel to exclude insects, and then hand pollinate the flowers on those plants with a paintbrush. Make sure that you exchange pollen between different plants to keep the diversity of your variety.
To harvest melon seed, pick the melons when they are ripe and ready for eating and keep indoors for a further day or two for the seed to mature further. Then open the fruit, scoop the seed out, and wash in a sieve under running water. Spread out on a china plate to dry thoroughly.
Cucumbers need to be ripened well beyond the edible stage. They will become much fatter, and green varieties will turn a dark yellow brownish colour, white varieties a paler yellow. Keep for a week or so after picking to let the seeds mature fully. Then cut open, scoop out the seeds and surrounding pulp into a jamjar, add a little water and stir well. Leave the jar on a sunny windowsill for 2-3 days for the seeds to ferment. On the third day, fill the jar fully with water, and stir well again. The good seeds should sink to the bottom of the jar, leaving pulp, debris and empty seeds floating on top. Gently pour off the water and debris, refill the jar, and repeat. After a couple of rinses, you should be left with good seeds at the bottom of a jar in clean water. Drain off the water, and spread out on a plate to dry well.
Both melon and cucumber seeds will last for several years if dried well and stored somewhere cool.
Some useful references
"Back Garden Seedsaving" by Sue Stickland (ISBN 1899233091) is an excellent reference with a good intro to seedsaving plus details about each individual crop.
"Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth.(ISBN 1882424581) tells you simply and clearly what you need to do to save seed of any veg you care to mention using materials you have at home.
"The Seed Savers Handbook" Jeremy Cherfas, (Grover Books, 1996) is also good and also talks in more detail about the reasons that you might want to save your own seeds.
"Breed your own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe ( Chelsea Green Pub Co; ISBN: 1890132721) is a good introduction to vegetable breeding for the interested amateur. Until 50 years ago, all gardeners were plant breeders - it's not difficult, you just need to know how to do it, and the tradition has been lost. This book will give you the basics, and then if you're interested, the nitty-gritty too.
Seedsaving information by the Real Seed Catalogue: www.realseeds.co.uk This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5
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