Lessons: Seed Saving and Hoop House

I’ve never been diligent about seed saving. Some we always save–sunflowers and purple hull peas, for example. But with most things I’ve just taken the easy way out and bought seed every year.

Last year I decided to try saving a few more things, figuring I’d start with easiest and work my way up to the more difficult. So I saved watermelon, cantaloupe and okra seed. The results were a mixed bag.

The saved cantaloupe seed did great. I had nearly 100% germination and the plants look good. The watermelon, on the other hand, was a complete fail. Hardly any of the seeds germinated. Not believing it was the fault of the seed, I replanted and again nothing came up. Finally I broke down and bought seed, which I just got in the ground last week, a month behind schedule. The saved okra seed germination was mediocre. Had I planted it more thickly then thinned it, it would have been fine. As it was, I filled in the gaps with new seed and it’s all coming along fine.

I don’t know why the watermelon seed didn’t germinate. I planted it in the same garden, at the same time, as the cantaloupes. As for the okra, a friend told me his experience has been the same. He quit saving the seed for that reason. I have no idea why the seed company seed outperforms our saved seed. But for now my takeaway is that I will continue to save watermelon and okra seed for use in emergencies, but will rely on purchased seed, if available.

As for the hoop house, I’ve learned not to try to plant squash in it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, pollination was terrible. I attributed that to an absence of pollinators (which was definitely a factor). Nina, the Matron of Husbandry, directed me to self-pollinating zucchini seed, something I hadn’t known existed. Researching that seed I learned that zukes won’t pollinate above 90 degrees. As the summertime temps in the hoop house are routinely over 90, that must have been a major factor as well.

I’ve been hand-pollinating the plants and we’ve harvested a lot of beautiful zucchini from the hoop house, much earlier than our outside plantings, but the yields are very poor. As if that wasn’t enough, pollinators may not like it in the hoop house, but squash bugs love it there, and they’re doing their usual brutal job on the plants. So no more zukes in the hoop house.

The beans we planted in it are doing very well, as are the tomatoes.

Lessons learned.


16 comments on “Lessons: Seed Saving and Hoop House

  1. shoreacres says:

    This is interesting. I’m spending time in the company of passionate prairie plant seed savers now, and it’s quite a complex world. Even knowing when to collect the seed is a bit of an art, it seems. One of our native plant society’s best propagators reported on a little project Monday night. He had tried to grow seed in soil taken from a local site that wants to become a garden, and nothing grew. Nothing. In that case, at least, it’s clearly a soil problem — but as he said, things rarely are that clear-cut.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BeeHappee says:

      Definitely a complicated world out there of which we do not know much. We know such things like Indian Paintbrush wont grow int he garden because it needs the grasses on which it hooks on semi-parasitically, so perhaps there are many conditions like such for other wild plants. Someone around here told me wolfberries usually grow around Indian ruins, the literally encircle them. Speculation is it is because of soil disturbances, but nobody can tell for sure.


    • Bill says:

      Now you have me wondering if the problem might have been when I collected the watermelon seed. I think I waited to the melons were fully ripe and busting open, but it’s possible I didn’t. That might explain it. On the other hand, I know the okra was fully mature.


  2. Laura Wills says:

    I had no idea there were self pollinating zucchini either. I may have to give this a try. We have such an issue with squash vine borers. It would be nice to just keep the squash plants under cover.

    I’m still bad about saving seeds as well. I just save the easy ones, beans and okra.


    • Bill says:

      Me too. I know how to save the other stuff, but have never bothered. In addition to beans, peas, melons, etc. (the easy ones) I save garlic too. I used to save seed potatoes until one year when I came up short and had to fill in with purchased seed, which significantly outperformed my saved seed.

      I hate to tell you but the hoop house won’t protect you from vine borers. They’re terrible here this year and just as bad in the hoop house as outside it.


  3. avwalters says:

    Seed saving involves more than just keeping some seeds from a veggie you liked. I learned the hard way, saving delicata squash seeds. What I hadn’t counted on was that I also grew 5 other varieties of squash–and pumpkins, any one of which could have cross-pollinated. The saved-seed result was what we called “the squash from outer space.” It didn’t look like what we’d expected and was just about inedible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yeah we don’t save any seeds from plants that cross pollinate. The volunteer squash that comes up around here is always some crazy cross-bred gourd. But the reason we stopped growing more than one variety of watermelon was so that I could save the seed. If we’re not going to save seed we may add another variety. We used to grow a yellow fleshed moon and stars and one year we had volunteers that looked like moon and stars on the outside and crimson sweet on the inside.

      Liked by 2 people

      • avwalters says:

        At lease they were edible. I suspect that there are a great many people who do not understand that seed saving needs to be done in specific ways. It’s why our seed banks are so critical.


  4. Our season is so much later than you folks, still in the 40’s at night and maybe getting to 60 in the day if we’re lucky. Once we get past our cold period in the spring we usually leave the sides rolled up 24/7 on the hoophouses, nothing likes 90 degree heat for pollination, even tomatoes and peppers. There are self-pollinating cukes too, and we are enjoying them along with the zucchini, it’s just too cold for much insect activity. Maybe that’s why we don’t have squash bugs?

    If you’re going to get serious about seed saving, check out GARDENING WHEN IT COUNTS: Growing Food in Hard Times, by Steve Solomon. Excellent info by variety on what is worth saving for the home gardener and what is not. Some plants require so many seed plants that the home gardener could not even begin to save seeds of certain vegetables.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      I’m still learning. I was surprised to read on Pam Dawling’s blog that they pull up the tomatoes in the hoop house as soon as the outside tomatoes start producing. She’s not far from here and says that it’s just too hot in the house to grow much in the heat of summer. Next year I’ll plant earlier.

      Thanks for the reference. Cherie saves flower and herb seeds and I save some vegetable seeds (but not all). I’ve just never taken the time to save the more difficult seeds. If times required it, I could do it. I just haven’t made it a priority.


  5. BeeHappee says:

    Well, Bill, you know what Will Bonsal says about seed saving? It is as intimate as love making .When you buy seed, he says, it is like hiring someone to make love to your spouse. 🙂

    If you save the seeds from the self pollinating zucchini hybrid, remember that next year good percent of it will not be self pollinating. May take you 10 years of selection and seed saving to “un-hybridazide” the seeds. There is definitely less certainty with seed saving of what will come out of it if you are counting on certain crop and profit, but there is an excitement of what may actually grow. Some of the very popular varieties we have now had been stumbled upon by backyard gardeners who just saved seeds and threw the dice. I went to seed school with Bill McDorman, he talks a lot about playful plant breeding, and just having fun as you save and plant. Seeds are magical. ❤


    • Bill says:

      Well I disagree with Will on that. I understand seed saving and have done it since I was a kid. But I don’t think buying some seed makes me a bad homesteader. And if it does, so be it.

      We don’t make our clothes either. But if we did, someone would ask why we didn’t spin our own thread. And if we did, someone would ask why we didn’t grow our own cotton. And if we did, someone would ask if the cotton was grown from saved seed.

      We raise 90% of the food we eat, and we supply lots of other families with food too. It isn’t all from seed we saved, but that’s a reasonable choice I’ve made, imho.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ed says:

    Assuming you aren’t talking about a hybrid watermelon. I’ve always heard that they germinate best in really warm soil, warmer than most other plants and that if it is cool, it can take upwards of 10 days to germinate. We don’t have sandy enough soil to grow them regularly up here so I have no real experience with that.


    • Bill says:

      We’re growing Crimson Sweet–an heirloom. I’m not sure why the seed didn’t germinate, but I’m convinced it was a problem with the seed. The purchased seed I just planted has popped right up. Linda’s comment above makes me think the problem might have been with when I harvested the seed. I’ll probably try again this year, but I won’t plant the whole garden with saved seed until I’m sure I’m doing it correctly.


  7. Scott says:

    Hey, that’s what you talked about when you got the hoop house: that you would be learning how to use it for a while.
    Thanks for sharing!


    • Bill says:

      Yes, exactly. I expected it to be a learning process. Our overwintered spinach was a great success, so I won’t whine too much over the underproducing squash. I have high hopes for the tomatoes. It’s been fun learning new methods and techniques.


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