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Seed Saving in Urban Areas can be a challenge to those of us growing in small areas….

seeds are the soul of a garden...

seeds are the soul of a garden…

This year I have to accept the fact that I may not be able to save ALL the seed for our urban potager. I live on a city street filled with blocks of homes, apartments, condos and city buildings, within a 1/2 mile or one mile radius, I do not know what people are growing on their balcony, porch, back/front yard or outside their business building. This makes it difficult to save seed for sustainability.

even the birds are aware how precious they are to us all...

Even birds are aware how precious seed is to us all…

I have been saving open-pollinated seeds for the past 5 years, and some will come “true to type,” but due to “isolation” it limits what seed I can save. Yes, I could hand pollinate some plants, but instead, I support our USA farmers that produce Organic Seed when I am unable to isolate my seeds. I have found several good seed saving resources that explain in detail which seed can be saved and how to achieve that goal. One of the best books is Seed to Seed by  Susanne Ashworth

It is a summer tradition for Golden Finches to hang upside down in the hot pursuit of these golden treasures

2013, I did save some seed from a variety of plants from our urban potager, but only those that did not require a half-mile/mile of isolation. I have collected my  Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers for 3 years, but this year I am growing about a dozen new peppers. Most seeds are viable if stored properly, so I am able to save seed from one type each year, and this year I will determine which peppers I want to include in my seed saving rotation schedule.

Saving seed means you have plants from the past that you may want to grow later...this is an amaranth with an italian sunflower that I grew in 2011 and I am glad I saved the seed...

Saving seed means you have plants from the past that you may want to grow later…this is amaranth with an Italian sunflower that I raised in 2011 and I am glad I saved the seed…

Here, is a chart from FEDCO Seeds ( with details about the seeds Life Cycle, Pollination, Pollinator, Isolation Distance, Seed Longevity + extra notes about seed types. I am a BIG fan of FEDCO Seeds they have a chart at the front of their catalog that lets you know where the seed is grown. I try to purchase open-pollinated, organic seed from the USA certified “organic” farmers since our urban potager has never used any chemicals/ pesticides on our property!

our local birds will even try to hide in search of  the amazing garden seed our plants provide in our urban potager

our local birds will even try to hide in search of the amazing garden seed our plants provide in our urban potager

It is hard to find all your seed organically grown in the USA, but it is possible if you take the time to seek out those farmers that make an effort to get “certified” and produce most of their plants using organic practices. You can grow your seed out and not use chemicals, but I find it is easier to start with seed that has been grown organically. The plants respond very well to organic growing conditions since they previously were grown using those practices.

Jimmy Nardello Peppers grown from seed saved in 2011 + 2012 + 2013, but this year I am growing out a varity of peppers to decide on which ones besides Nardello I want to include in my  seed saving rotation.

Jimmy Nardello Peppers grown from seed saved in 2011 + 2012 + 2013, but this year I am growing out a variety of peppers to decide on which ones besides Nardello I want to include in my seed saving rotation.

The key to seed saving is to start with “open-pollinated” seed which means it will grow “true to type.”When you are able to save your own seed, it is the only way you can control the characteristics that you prefer. For example, I have been saving Jimmy Nardello peppers for 3 years and this year I only kept those that turned red early + that is one trait important to our short growing season.

Lemon cucumber is better eaten when a lighter yellow and smaller, but for seed saving you have to let them get a bit large and stay on the vine longer.

Lemon cucumber is better eaten when a lighter yellow and smaller, but for seed saving you have to let them get a bit large and stay on the vine longer.

I saved Lemon Cucumber in 2013, so I will have to see if they come true from seed. I know the isolation was 1500 feet, but I don’t believe many of the people in my area grow food on their lots. I am really excited to see if they grow out “true to type” in 2014. I purchased my first seed from a variety of “organic certified seed” sources and grew a large amount of Lemon Cucumbers out last year! They also were not bothered at all by cucumber beetles, so that was a good trait. Each year you save seed they acclimate to your growing conditions, and that is one of the main reasons to keep your own seed!

Spring is around the corner, so at Palm Rae Urban Potager I am busy starting spring vegetables, herbs + flowers!

Happy New Year Plantings!!!!

44 replies »

  1. Amazing! I had no idea seed saving was so involved. I never did it in an organised way back in the days when I had a big garden – some things simply self seeded happily and regrew – sometimes [rarely] I saved and sewed seed from flowers, but couldn’t tell you what the strike rate was. Mostly I purchased seedlings 🙂 It was before Monsanto and Co took over the world.

    Now I buy seedlings from the organic shops and markets.

    Your photos are beautiful, you have a great eye!

    • aww thank you…those were some I took in 2011 which seems AGES ago:-) Crazy thing is a lot of vegetables will reseed in the garden which is something I am exploring “this year” since I would like to establish more perennial vegetables. I am so glad many of our USA farmers are saving seed and in the business of establishing USA “organic certified” vegetable / flower seed. It is a great job they are doing and hopefully at some point we all can wipe Monsanto + Co from the monopoly of seed ownership!

      • Amen! to that!! The same thing is happening here too – I am a passive participant though when it comes to gardening as all I currently have is about 2 sq metres of actual garden space the rest of my tiny outdoor area is concrete……..sigh!! I love what you and Wendy and all the other back yard farmers are doing though and have high hopes that I will get my act together and start a vertical garden soon 🙂

      • I understand since I don’t have a huge lot. I do use a lot of containers to grow vertically. I had to keep my pole beans away from the critters this year, so I grew them vertically in pots and it worked great this year! This year I am growing more in containers mixed with herbs and flowers. It will be an adventure. You have to become creative to grow food on small lots, but I sure enjoy “food” when you just walk outside to pick lovely pole beans for dinner! I also like to sit in the space and watch all the birds, bees and butterflies dancing all around mid summer. I lOVE THAT HUM!

      • Me too – I so miss the sound of birds – there are few here in the inner city. Most folks don’t garden at all it seems – I have some bumbles and honey bees come by for my lavender and jasmine and assorted herbs which is most pleasing! I also have a neighbour who sprays vigorously and cuts all my climbers off the moment they pop their heads above the brick wall that separates his nice, clean, empty patio from my ‘overgrown’ mess. 🙂

      • lol…I call my overgrown mess…my organized chaos! And to each his own, I bet yours is beautiful and his is what I call a “steril mess”-lol

  2. Hi Robbie… may the new year bring you more joy in your gardening adventures… I have finally harvested the moroheya seeds now… shall be sending to you in a while… over here, I normally sow them in April… perhaps at your place, you may like to try germinating them indoors first… I think there will be enough seeds for several attempts in germinating… if possible, I would like to try growing the lemon cucumber over here and see… they look so cute…

    • Hi Lrong…THANK YOU:-) so very much…I would love to send you some lemon cucumber seed. Just let me know. You just have to catch them when they are a light yellow , but not too big since they do not have the same “sweet” flavor. It is so strange when you get them at the right time they are “sweet” and it surpirsed you that they have a “sweeter” taste than most cucumbers:-)

    • Funny thing is that I did not notice the bee until I cleaned up the shot and posted it the other night-crazy:-) You are so right they are the “life” of the garden!:-)

      • Eliza…I was thinking after I posted my reply…if your catch bees in your garden while taking a photo of something else they are EVERYWHERE….that has been my goal! I hope we all Feed the Bees in our gardens in 2014…I only am planting bee friendly this year again!

  3. Those lemon cucumbers are so pretty, I’m definitely going to try growing those in my next garden. This is such a helpful post, thank you for sharing Robbie!

    • They are pretty hardy and don’t seem to be bothered by pests. A friend of ours told us to eat them when they were smaller and “light yellow” since once they get too large they do not have that nice flavor. I love the FEDCO chart it is one of the best for understanding what you can save seed from and I find their seed pretty good:-) Look forward to hearing about your “new” garden this summer. It will be very different than your California growing area and an adventure. I have no doubt it will be beautiful:-) Check out High Mowing Organic Seeds they have some wonderful Lemon Cucumber seed.

  4. I would call ours organised chaos too Robbie lol. Your photos are gorgeous, as always. We save some vegetable seeds, many are left to self sow where they fall or blow to and others we buy BUT every year we try to save more of our own.

    • I found those photos from 2011:-) they were from a day we had golden finches hanging all over our sunflowers. They are so hard to catch “still” since they won’t let you get too close.Each year they let me get a bit closer. They love sunflowers and I just love their bright yellow summer color. I let a lot of my seed scatter in the garden and then I lift the seedlings to put where I want-tee hee:-) I do get the “fall or blow” since I count on self-sowing also!

      • Well, for everyone that I take I have at least 20-30 that are awful! lol. I was reading about that today from a professional photographer and he said ” take a lot of photos of your subjects that way you will be sure to find one that you will be able to work with”. With digital cameras that is one advantage, so just take a lot and I have no doubt you will get one. I’ve seen some of your photos and they are nice too:-) You have a lovely garden!

      • That’s good advice thank you. I actually need a better camera….on the “one day” list, I get very disappointed with my indoor photos but no getting around it really.
        Thank you, unfortunately no flower gardens left so it doesn’t look as pretty as many/yours 🙂

  5. I love seed saving! I read through the isolation requirements after having saved for a few years. I had to let go of them based on my own space and desire for different varieties each time, as well as neighborhood mysteries. I may not get true to type all of the time, but I have interesting adventures!

    • I know they say you can get some New Vegetables-lol.Shoot that is how we got some of the ones we all eat now and think have been here forever:-) I like to share seed, so if I do give people seed I try to make sure it is “true-to-type” or they may not be too happy:-) Seed is so inexpensive and I like to try new ones every year,too…so I don’t mind purchasing from people who do have the space for distance. Good to see you are back to posting again. I look forward to hearing all about your “interesting adventures” in your garden!

  6. I could learn a lot from you about saving seed I suspect. You do a great job and I’m envious of your “stash”. 😉 I’ve saved a few seeds of certain plants here and there but nothing as precise and comprehensive as you’re doing. BTW – Do you know about the Seed Saver’s Exchange? They’ve been around for years saving and selling heirloom and open pollinated varieties. I think you’d like them.
    Great post, thanks!

    • I am still learning about seed saving and determined to grow more natives in our urban potager to support native bees( will leave that for a post in the future-lol) I’m doing more saving now since I tend to find some “odd” plants that are hard to find. I then have to locate the organic seed saver and try to isolate them in my garden, so I can keep some in my freezer/store for my “seed rotation” system.Some times I go to look for them and the next season they are gone!
      I am so stunned by some of our heirloom flowers, herbs and vegetables that will not be here in 10 yrs. I can’t imagine not having them in my garden the next year.For example, the lemon squash that is such a great bush squash and fits in our small area. I will be saving some after this year once I can find a source that is grown “true-to-type:” I tried last year, but I got seed from someone that was not true to type and my isolation was totally destroyed. I was not mad since the “hybrid cross” was not a bad squash, just not a true Lemon Squash. And we all make mistakes:-) So this year I found FEDCO was carrying Lemon Squash from a USA farmer ( code 1) and I will grow that out and see if it is true to type! Baker Creek had one that I tried one year and I saved the seed in my fridge so I can grow that one out to get a true type. I love this squash since it is NEVER bothered by pests and fits in small spaces and is so tasty for a small serving. You eat it about the size of a lemon and it is great fried..yes, the taste is why I grow it and it is prolific! I do know about SSE and I feel they are one of the best for getting quality ‘true-to-type” seed. Thank goodness they are around or we would of lost many of our heirlooms:-)

  7. I think I added Fedco to my bookmarks of places to buy seed but I try to buy seed from seed companies in the Northeast only. (I have to limit myself somehow!) And I think I saved Fedco’s catalog because it was so beautiful! I always try to buy organic seed and from companies who have taken the safe seed pledge. I recently became a member of Hudson Valley Seed Library – they have the cool art packs – and also they send members a different seed each year to try growing and you save and send back some of the seed to them to keep the varieties going, which I think is such a great idea!

    • I love FEDCO’s catalog! It is so educational while supplying wonderful seed choices. You have to write them a personal letter to get their catalog they do not let you get it by just asking on line/order from them first. They are owned by their employees , so I support their business model:-) I have read about Hudson Valley Seed Library–you are very lucky to be near them and can benefit from their great organization. We are about 4 hours away from SSE, but nothing locally. There is Heirloom Solutions about an hour away from me in Illinois, so I may take a trip up there to see what they are raising. I understand I tend to buy seed from companies in my zone, but some of my “odd” choices are hard to find-lol

      • I have yet to visit the Hudson Valley Seed Library but someday (they are probably about 4 hrs away from me) … I understand, I love to try something (usually more than one thing) new and odd in my garden each year! This past summer, mainly because of the bunny ranch (?), I found myself short of some of the things I love so this year I may not be so adventurous but will plant LOTS of what I want to harvest!

      • Kathy, I am so on the same page as you for this year! I was looking through some photos of my garden a few years back and noticed some of my “Plant friends” I missed this year-lol. I will have to make sure they are in our garden this summer:-)

    • I am so humbled and honored when people that have such amazing blogs consider me as I attempt to carve out a space in the cyber arena to share:-) I will get to this in the next few months since I am busy dealing with this 40 below weather! Worst weather we have seen in 2 decades here in the Midwest-brrrrr….

      • Finally I do have some time to go trough comments-you absolutely deserve the nomination ! I like the cyber arena space word, we really are carving out there something, aren’t we? I was watching your weather on TV and was happy with our warm record breaking January 😉 All the best,

      • I know it is fun isn’t it! We meet so many intersting people through our blogs and get to travel through cyber space to see new places right from the comforts of MY BELOW ZERObrrrr location!!! You are so lucky to be in a warm place, after this winter I am doubting my choice to live in the midwest of America. I’ve lived further north in two other states, and I am grateful I am not up there right now!

      • I live just near (under) Alps and our winters at this time of a year are filled with snow and cold. This winter we have the highest temperatures for January in the last 60 years, which is good for heating bills but bad for nature-like bees mistakenly think it is spring and start feeding new bee queens that have no chances to survive cold winter to come…

      • oh, I thought you were in a warm area:-)Your area is beautiful I bet! The other day, I was on the phone with someone for an order + they were in south american telling me they had 80 degree weather! We had below zero and -40 wind chill..brrr….that is horrible about the bees because we need our natives:-)

      • We have warm summers and cold winters, I particularly like falls and springs in Ljubljana.The good thing about the area is it takes an hour to visit Alps or seashore. I see you had a cold winter, we are getting real winter these days here around, but I am waiting for spring to come…

      • Oh what a lovely place you live near:-) I am waiting for spring + have been starting plants from seed for our garden since January. It is busy around here getting all our little plants started, but when they are blooming in spring, summer or fall it makes it all worth the time spent. It also makes the winter months pass more quickly until spring. Our spring usually starts any time between end of March to Late April. Hurry spring!:-)

      • Spring is coming to Ljubljana about the same time and I am waiting ,too. I plan to buy some young plants, have to think carefully about the investment as deer loves to come by and only deer-proof plants can survive. Roses are among deer’s favorites which is bad enough.But then ,it is nice to have flora and fauna in the garden, isn’t it 😉

      • It is indeed! They have a huge problem with the deer in our city.I was upset when they allowed people to shoot them on some lots with bow and arrows! I tend to keep most of my plants in the back + try to only use deer-proof plants, but we all know when they are hungry they will eat anything. I know they had to thin them out because they are dangerous to drivers, and no one wants to see them starve. I’ve been seeing them run down the middle of the city road! My father used “ivory soap” in netting to keep them away from his plants, I do find they stay away from the more fragrant plants which I use a lot of up front. It is an adventure each season!

      • I hear about the soap for the first time! Some people here hang human hair on trees, so deer thinks human is near. Which I do not believe, as deer feeds my apples staring at me like everything is perfectly normal….

      • lol.They are not easily tricked:-) I have even heard of coyote urine here in America near the garden! I believe a 7 foot fence works best:-)

      • I believe it is true, but then having fence all around doesn’t look nice…we shall be happy with what we get, that is the best way…;)

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