Ray's Garden Rows: Growing and seed saving

Ray Mueller

For many years, I'd been having problems with the germination and emergence of the garden pea seeds that I purchased from several mail order suppliers. I have not purchased from any local outlets.

Because of the continuous problems with the mail order seeds, I began to save my own seeds a few years ago. That has proven to be a much better choice. I have also been saving all of my own green bean seeds for at least 10 years.

Results in 2016

This year, for instance, I enjoyed about 90 percent emergence with the garden pea seeds that I'd saved from last year and even two years ago. Thanks to the plants which the harvesters missed last year at the edges in the commercial processor green pea fields in the nearby town of Brothertown in Calumet County, I was also able to collect some of those seeds as they ripened.

Their emergence wasn't as good but that might have been because they were planted in a seedbed that wasn't ideal. But when the time came to harvest them in July, they were very productive in a harvest season which was shorter than that with the garden pea varieties.

Perhaps the difference in emergence between purchased and self-saved seeds could be traced to my hand picking of the seeds compared to the mass commercial production that the mail order outlets and seed company packagers depend on. One thing that I might be sacrificing is to not have disease resistant products that many of the suppliers apply to the seeds. That was not a concern this year.

This year certainly provided my most bountiful crop of home-grown green peas ever. And it led directly to the chance to save lots of seeds. I have probably accumulated enough seeds to plant for next two or three years.

The fallen seeds

As is common when one intentionally leaves or accidentally misses some pea pods that will turn into ripe seeds in about two weeks, there is always the possibility that some of them will break out of the drying pods and fall onto the ground.

Once there is rainfall, those seeds are likely to swell and sprout. Don't save any of them for seed because they will no longer be viable.

But that moisture will lead to a growth of new plants, often with shallow roots, making them vulnerable to dry and hot weather in the latter half of the summer. But that's not the only challenge.

Late season puzzle

I remember one year when a few plants from the spilled seeds were growing vigorously in August and then setting blossoms. Those blossoms persisted until early November but there were no pea pods.

That's contrary to what's been promised in several publications – that there can be a late season pea crop. At least until mid-August, that situation is getting more trial runs this year.

In the garden patch where we saved some seeds and the vines were removed, a fair number of seeds slipped out of the pods and germinated in early August. How they'll fare might depend on the weather and if we irrigate them with the hope that they'll produce.

Out in the fields

But there's another venue in the local area where a similar scenario might play out this year. Along County G south of Chilton, there are fields of green peas that were not harvested and then produced ripe seeds before there was tillage in the fields.

By mid-August, those fields were sporting a new crop stand of 50 percent or more compared to what would be considered acceptable from a regular planting. How those stands will turn out, especially if there is sufficient rainfall, could be interesting if no activity takes place in those fields for two or three more weeks.

The nearly three inches of rain that fell in the area on August 20 certainly improved the chances that the volunteer crop of peas might be productive in those fields. Even if not, the residue from growth will certainly be beneficial for the soil and subsequent crops.

Green bean phenomenon

Although it's customary to grow many crops with one planting and harvest per year, there's certainly an exception with green beans. There's seldom a problem with planting them in May and then again in early August for a new harvest in late September and early October, provided that there's no killing freeze.

Even with the early planting of green beans, the odds are good that a second growth on the original plants will occur if the conditions are right. Having sufficient moisture is the key.

At least through mid-August of this year, that was happening with a number of the green been plants that were seeded in mid-May. As I was waiting for the pod specimens that I left on the plants for next year's seed to ripen, some of the plants were again laden with blossoms and beans ready to pick.

Seed saving protocols

For ease and convenience, peas and beans are the easiest garden seeds to save. That applies to green, yellow, and purple beans. I have four types of green beans but I don't recall the variety name for any of them.

As is the case with peas, collect the beans for seed before the pods become so dry that they break open, spilling the seeds on the ground. That opening is enhanced by having the pods rained on. As with the peas, don't pick any off the ground if they were rained on or if they have any mold.

Because peas and beans are self-pollinating, there's no concern about crossing and getting variants when growing a new crop from the seeds. But that's not true for most other garden plants.

Separation distances

For anyone interested in saving seeds from other plants, the task is far more cumbersome in most cases. My source on that is Kathleen Plunkett-Black, an avid gardener and seed saver who lives near Arkansaw in western Wisconsin.

With tomatoes, for instance, no other variety can be growing within 10 to 20 feet because of the likelihood of cross pollination by the bees or other insects that we welcome. After that, fermentation and drying processes are needed to isolate the seeds from the tomato pulp.

Other separation distances needed to maintain variety purity are 20 to 30 feet for lettuce, 500 feet for peppers, a quarter mile for cucurbits (vined plants), one mile for lima beans and a half to full mile for brassicas — not to mention needing to have a certain minimum number of plants for some of those species.

For those reasons, it's certainly easier to buy seeds derived from professional production practices or plants which have been started in a greenhouse.