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Finding, Gathering, Saving Seeds - SChool Classroom Project

Finding, Gathering, Saving Seeds - SChool Classroom Project

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Published by: Seed Savers Network on Apr 08, 2011
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09/24/2011

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This month . . .
Finding, Gathering, Saving Seeds
Continuing the Cycle of Life 
For most of human history, people needed to save and replant seeds inorder to survive. Seeds from favorite plants were saved from year to yearand generation to generation. When people emigrated to new parts of theworld, they brought with them seeds from plants with qualities they valued:the tastiest tomatoes, longest beans, or squash that withstood coldtemperatures, for instance.As fall weather spells changes in many schoolyards, consider encouragingyour students to become savvy seed savers by identifying and gatheringtheir own gems from the garden or wild. Why bother? Saving seeds can beeconomical (you might generate hundreds from just one plant) and inspirestudents to explore, firsthand, plants' life cycles and clever adaptations forhousing and dispersing seeds. Your young growers can cultivateconnections with others by packaging their unique seeds for gifts or sale,or swap seeds and experiences with students in other growing classrooms.Math, economics, language arts, and more can come to life in astudent-run seed business.Your young stewards might also delve into some of the historical andecological reasons people today save seeds. With the growth ofcommercial seed companies during the last century, new varieties werecreated, but many old ones vanished. These lost strains had qualities thatpeople savored
and 
contained a wealth of potentially valuable geneticinformation. Students might want to learn about, and perhaps join thegrowing movement of gardeners and farmers committed to preservingbiodiversity and living history by growing and saving "heirloom" seeds.
Materials
flat surfaces (e.g., trays or screens) for drying seeds
q
envelopes and glass jars for storage
q
hand lenses (optional)
q
markers and/or labels
q
small paper bags (for gathering small seeds)
q
Saving Seeds
1. Reviewing the Basics (Seed Production 101)
Saving Seeds
Contents 
Pg. 1: Saving Seeds
Pg. 2: Curriculum Connections
Finding, Gathering, Saving Seedshttp://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/aug04/pg1.html (1 of 5) [8/17/2004 10:06:11 AM]
 
Although you can easily save and replant many types of gardenseeds
without 
a lot of background knowledge, knowing somebotany basics can make it a more fruitful and fascinatingexperience. It
is 
important to know whether a plant is
hybrid
or
open-pollinated
. Open-pollinated plants either transfer polleninternally, from male to female flowers (called self-pollinating) orhave pollen transferred by wind or insects. A hybrid is producedwhen seed companies cross two specific lines
 
(a tomato with athick skin and another with large fruits, for instance) to create anew variety. (Seed catalogs and packets will tell you if seed ishybrid.)You cannot count on seeds from hybrid plants to produceoffspring with the parents' characteristics. Some seeds of hybrids,in fact, will be sterile. So don't plan to save seeds from hybridplants unless your students are doing so as part of an experiment.Seeds of self-pollinating plants, on the other hand, will produceoffspring much like the parents. Plants pollinated by wind (such ascorn and spinach) and those pollinated by insects (such assquash and cucumbers) may produce a next generation thatresembles a parent, or they may cross with other varieties to turnup something entirely unique. (Have you ever seen a squumpkinin your compost pile? SeeMessing with Mystery Squashfordetails on creating one.) The easiest way for school seed savers to avoid cross-pollination is to plant justone variety of any crop.Another botanical basic that affects what seeds you save is a plant's
life cycle
. Seeds of annualvegetables, flowers, and herbs, which complete their life cycles, from seed to seed, in just one year, arethe easiest ones for school gardeners to save. Garden biennials, such as carrots and cabbage, are ediblethe first year and set seed the next year after overwintering. If you're interested in tackling the morecomplicated process of saving seeds of biennials, you'll find lots of support from Web sites and printmaterials in ourResourcessection. You'll also find information on saving seeds of perennials (plants thatlast many years), many of which are easy to collect, but more challenging to germinate!TheSeed Saving Chart, below, gives details on easy-to-save seeds of garden vegetables and annualflowers.
2. Cultivating Keen Observers
 
Long before plants produce seeds, their flowers reveal secretsabout what's to come. If you have a chance early in the season,consider inviting students to explore garden flowers or wild oneswith a hand lens and, if appropriate, dissect them. Can youryoung detectives predict where seeds might develop? Whetheryour students are gathering seeds from annual gardenvegetables, flowers, and herbs; perennial garden flowers; ornearby wildflowers and native plants, have them keep their eyespeeled for signs of seed development. What evidence do theirobservations reveal?Your eagle-eyed pupils should also begin to think like gardenersand farmers did historically, and like plant scientists, byconsidering which plant characteristics they most value. Doesone marigold plant seem to have more brilliant flowers? Tie a ribbon on it while it's still in bloom, to mark itfor seed saving. Since healthy plants are most likely to produce a healthy new generation, they'll alsowant to identify garden plants that seem robust and free of pests and diseases.
3. Gathering Seeds
 
Pg. 3: Resources
Related Articles
Sharing and SwappingSaved Seeds
Invite your savvy seedsavers to cultivate newfriendships by havingfruitful exchanges withother gardeners. Throughthe interactiveSeed Swapsection of our Web site,your students can browsethrough listings of seedsbeing offered and postwhat they have to share.If they want to find othergrowing classrooms withwhich to exchange, trysearching in ourSchoolGarden Registrybychecking off the box forschools interested in anE-mail Pals Exchange.
Finding, Gathering, Saving Seedshttp://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/aug04/pg1.html (2 of 5) [8/17/2004 10:06:11 AM]
 
Most garden seeds either mature dry in pods (beans) or capsules(columbine; see photo, right), flowers (lettuce), or fleshy fruits(tomatoes, squash, cucumbers).The ideal time for gathering seeds varies from crop to crop.Melon seeds, for instance, are mature when the fruits are readyto eat, but squash and cukes should be left on the plant for weeksafter you'd normally eat them. Generally, let vegetable gardenseeds dry on the plant as long as possible.If annual and perennial flowers and herbs (including wild ones)intrigue your students, they may need to look even more carefullyfor signs that seeds are ripe. Withering and drooping flowersindicate that their job of attracting pollinators is done and thatseeds are beginning to form. Flower stalks that have dried andturned brown or seedpods that have turned from green to darkcolor are good indicators that seeds are mature. If students hear a rattle or if seeds fall when they taplightly on flower stalks, it's probably time to harvest.Try to harvest seeds on a sunny day, once the dew hasevaporated, and remove all pulp and fiber from their surfaces.Certain seeds (such as lettuce, dill, and many flowers) will scatterwhen the seedhead is dry or lose seeds gradually as they ripen.You can shake their stalks every few days over a paper bag tocollect the ripe seed before it's lost. Sunflower, bean, and pepperseeds, on the other hand, are fun to harvest by hand. (Thechart,below, and books and Web sites in theResourcessection, offerdetails on harvesting and storing many different types of seeds.)
4. Drying and Storing Seeds
 
Have students consider what might be ideal seed storageconditions by recalling what they need to germinate. If moisturehelps seeds sprout, for instance, how should they be stored?Before storing seeds, you'll need to make sure that they arecompletely dry by spreading them out on a flat surface (e.g., ascreen or tray) in a dry, airy place. Seeds that are borne in fleshyfruits, such as tomatoes, should be rinsed
or 
sit in water forseveral days and left to ferment before being spread out to dry(see chart, below, for details).Seeds that are borne on capsules or flowers may need to beseparated from the chaff (seed covering and other debris) beforestorage. Have students do this by tossing seeds lightly on ascreen or tray and blowing or letting a breeze remove the lighterdebris.Once seeds are dry, put them in envelopes and then in small glass jars (such as baby food containers)with tight lids, and label them. Some people prefer using plastic bags or just glass jars, which work fine ifthe seeds are absolutely dry. Store seeds where it's cool, dark, and dry. A refrigerator, freezer, or similarlocation is fine. (Your young scientists may want to test how storing seeds under different conditionsaffects germination.)If your seeds are stored properly, they should last at least two to three years, if not longer, depending onthe plant types. (Onion and corn seeds only remain viable for a year.) Once you've tried some basic seedsaving, students' questions should provide fertile ground for further research and investigations. SeeCurriculum Connectionsfor some ideas.
Seed Saving: Easy Annual Vegetables and Flowers
If your class wants to save garden seeds, we recommend starting with the following. For more detail on these and other plants, see materials in the Resources  section.
Plant When to gather seed Processing
beans and peas(self-pollinating)Leave in pods on plant until theyrattle.Remove seeds from pods and spreadthem out to dry.NGA’s latest book for educators,
Growing Ventures 
, features storiesof 18 student-run business projects,as well as step-by-step guidelines,activities, and worksheets forengaging students in planning andimplementing a plant- orgarden-related business that meetsyour curriculum goals. You'll findmore details at ourGardening withKids Store.
Member BenefitsNew DiscountsMembers now save 10%
on items at the Gardeningwith Kids store
and 
NGAGarden Shop.Enter members area.
Free Courses
Take all 5 online courses... FREE.Enter members area.
Answers to YourGardening Questions
Our gardening experts willtackle your growingdilemmas.Enter members area.
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We will draw from ourpool of members fortesting new curricula,participating in onlineprojects, and exchangingwith other members atconferences.
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Finding, Gathering, Saving Seedshttp://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/aug04/pg1.html (3 of 5) [8/17/2004 10:06:11 AM]

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