Author Topic: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden  (Read 150 times)

William S.

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If there is anything that my giant seed stash attests too it is that I am something of a compulsive seed saver. I think it has morphed into about three large bins with voluminous seeds of corn, squash, and beans probably being the biggest space hogs.

One interesting feature of being a seed saver is that a portion of every crop, and often entire crops that get neglected become seed crops. Usually I harvest a portion of these and the seed goes into my seed stash. However, some seed usually falls to the ground or remains on the plant forming both aerial and soil seed banks. The consequence of this is that many garden vegetables flex the fact that they are in fact only partially domesticated and readily volunteer. I of course then recognize the resulting seedlings and weed around them.

As a botanist sometimes I've left for years at a time for work in places where I wasnt able to garden. Most recently I gardened heavily in 2011 and 2012 and then returned in 2016. I returned to some volunteers of Lancer parsnip, daikon radish, Siberia kale, and common purple top turnip.

As long as I garden each year and create annual disturbance and some weeding I have gotten reliable volunteering from the following in addition to the four I mentioned previously:

Amaranth, dill, lettuce, orach, sunflower, leafy mustards, miners lettuce, California chia, cilantro, corn salad, carrot, bee's friend, arugula, fennel from seed, tomatillos, and ground cherries.

Tomatoes volunteer regularly but the pattern seems to be unreliable hopefully I will be able to find a reliable strain of wild or domestic soon. Solanum peruvianum, Solanum pimpinillifolium, and domestic tomato all volunteered for me in 2018.

Then some plants like fennel also volunteer from vegetative propagules: mint, fennel, french sorrel, showy milkweed, potato, jerusalem artichoke all fall in this category. Some of these also go to seed reliably.

I like the idea of plants that retain some of the fitness of their wild progenitors. So as a breeding strategy relying on volunteerism doesn't bother me much for now.

I think in the long term and for some crops in some locales this could interfere greatly with selection. However for many plants I suspect that this methodology may be resulting in some level of local adaptation. My dill for instance originated from several varieties and so is a grex. As are my carrots. So they have variation that natural selection can act upon to achieve local adaptation.

With carrots it could lead to annual flowering, hybridizing with queen Annes lace (not currently a problem here). For other species non-selection could lead to populations that grow well, but don't taste as good.

Currently though it greatly interests me to see how far a self seeding garden can go.

What doesn't work for me? Squash, peas, beans, and corn so far. Though squash and peas have flirted with volunteering for me. If the fruits  plants, or seeds can't survive the winter or is almost perfectly harvested it won't volunteer. Incidentally there seems to be a ideal type of domestic tomatoes for volunteering. Large seeds, small fruits, lots of unpicked fruits- yellow pear is a good example though too long season to be an ideal volunteer in my garden.

Then there are true feral vegetables which could be divided into waifs and established populations. I have seen a number of feral tomatoes many of which were probably waifs. I have also seen wild beets, rye, rape, radish, fennel, nasturtium, new Zealand spinach, and tomatillo. I consider such populations to be somewhat akin to wild crop relatives and to be potential sources of good germplasm. I collected my fennel and some of my rye from such populations. I also got rye from Joseph collected originally from feral populations.

A final category might include truly wild vegetables that have never been or have barely been domesticated. While not a vegatable, Malus pumila the common apple is such a plant. Fennel might rightly belong in this category as might queen Annes lace. Wild tomato species, wild crop relatives, and wild species like the California chia, miners lettuce, and showy milkweed in my garden are simply wild species. I may think of some of these as domestication projects, but domestication may require a great deal of time. If the wild crop relatives or wild species can also reproduce in the habitat they may establish populations. I looked up one of the only known wild populations of Solanum peruvianum in San Diego County California recently  on calflora or the california consortium of herbaria websites and as I recall the herbarium record said that it was growing at Torrey Pines in the vicinity of an old experiment station where it was grown deliberately. The record was from awhile back. If the population didn't persist it may have simply been a waif (if not deliberately eradicated by the caretakers of the parks rare flora). I suspect that there are quite a few fruits, vegetables, and herbs that in truth aren't domesticated at all, or are not very domesticated- that is to say that they retain essentially full fitness in the wild and given the proper habitat they will establish. Searching through regional floras may give an idea as to which species are apt to do this.
« Last Edit: 2018-10-20, 10:03:43 PM by William S. »
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A

Raymondo

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Re: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden
« Reply #1 on: 2018-10-20, 09:53:17 PM »
Regular volunteers include lettuce, NZ spinach, orach, miners lettuce. Beans do sometimes but not often and not many. Peas never seem to. I suspect the seed either rots over winter or is very attractive to various beasties. Havenít had tomatoes volunteer here yet though I expect to see lots of Sungold offspring this season as they got completely away from us last season and hundres of fruit dropped to the ground.
Thatís it so far but weíve only been here for 3 years. I expect more as time goes by.
Ray
Mildly acidic clay loam over clay and ironstone; temperate climate modified by altitude (1000m); avg rainfall 780mm; usually wet summers and dry winters.

Richard Watson

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Re: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden
« Reply #2 on: 2018-10-21, 01:12:55 AM »
For me the miners lettuce would be my most prolific volunteer, it has not only spread to all corners of our property but now spreading around our local area, behind our hall, down at the river and along the sides of the roads, anyone see that film 'The trifled?.  Standard lettuce, tomatoes, garlic chives, Cape Gooseberries and orach would the main self seeding plants, never get onions volunteering though.

reed

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Re: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden
« Reply #3 on: 2018-10-21, 01:30:09 AM »
I have some things I rarely even save seed from any more. Sunflowers and dill come to mind. Also pimpinellifolium tomatoes and their crossed descendants.

I generally don't keep domestic tomato volunteers although they are numerous. I also don't keep volunteer squash, melons, corn or beans.  I don't keep them because many were likely less desirable for some reason or they would not have been left to rot in the garden.

I both encourage volunteers and save seed of some things. Lettuce, turnip and radish for example.

Onions, garlic, horseradish, black and raspberries are examples of things I encourage to establish in what  I call a semi-wild state. I love things that produce food without much help form me.

I don't worry too much if what volunteers produce isn't perfect in size, production or even flavor. It has to be pretty awful before I'll cull out a wild or wild(ed) food plant.

Oxbow Farm

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Re: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden
« Reply #4 on: 2018-10-21, 04:50:06 PM »
I have a fondness for volunteer B. napus kale, because I feel that it is being actively selected towards swede midge tolerance since I do not protect it, so it must be able to avoid enough midge damage to be able to mature a flower meristem.

I very much dislike B. juncea mustard volunteers and I now actively destroy them.  I find they rapidly revert to a small plant, early bolting biotype, being descended from mustards that have had their vernalization requirement bred out of them.  I am breeding for large plants, and I don't want any crossing with tiny "flash mustards".

grokrathegreen

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Re: Seed Saving by Volunteering Seed never leaves the garden
« Reply #5 on: 2018-10-26, 07:47:24 PM »
A good number of my seed lines I am saving this season are from volunteers. A lion share of my main garden failed this season, and with it several breeding lines I was trying to expand. The biggest emotional loss there was a deviant runner bean I was rather fond of with particularly large brown mottled beans, so it goes.

A smaller more intensive garden I have there were a lot of plants that came up from a neglected compost pile. Most importantly I had a good crop of cucumbers with great taste come up, and a common pole bean with particularly nice large pods. Also in my drive way I had four melon plants come up from where I cleaned out a wheel barrel of last years field neglected melons. As my main melon patch failed those plants were this years melon crop. Three of the melon plants were good, but not special. One however was fantastically flavorful and rich, so it will be the backbone of next years melon planting I am thinking. There is also a few really good chard plants which have become endemic in my garden, a friend gave me beet seeds years ago, which to my initial disappointment were actually chard, I got over the disappointment when I decided they were the best tasting and most succulent chard I have grown. I just harvested a 12 pound chard head from one of then with stems as wide as my hand. I am hoping the seed I saved from last years chard breed true, but there were beet seeds I was saving in the area, so I might have to work to untangle that.

There are weedy ground cherries which I am not particularly fond of that I need to be more through in killing back for a couple seasons lest they make a move to take over.

None of my weedy crops do I think of as great seed, but since alot of my choice seed died in a bad field, I am glad for natures own back ups on several things.