Volunteer Mary MacVean on saving seeds: 

The other day, I took a bucket and headed toward the green bean plants. But I left all the green ones alone, instead poking through the vines looking for the pods that had dried out and turned from deep inviting green to a yellowish color. 

It’s part of the effort over the summer at GrowGood to save seeds for next year’s sowing. A few weeks earlier, we had inspected the bean plants — mostly bronco and Maxibel — and decided which ones looked strongest, fullest, healthiest. Those, of course, are the kinds of plants we want to grow again next year. So it would be those plants from which we would harvest seeds. 

Using small flags, we marked those plants to keep anyone from picking the beans until the pods were completely dry in the persistent, hot sun of Bell.

The dried pods are opened, and healthy-looking beans are saved in brown paper bags. (It’s fun to find some interlopers, volunteer pods holding multicolored Christmas beans or favas; we save those too.)

Beans have what are called perfect flowers; they self-pollinate within the flower before it opens. Things are not so simple for saving seeds from summer squash.

GrowGood has also been harvesting several varieties of summer squash: Ronde de Nice (a spherical pale green squash), zucchini, yellow crookneck, painted serpent and others). To save seeds from these plants, the pollen must be transferred by hand from a male flower to a female flower.

The easy part is telling which ones are male and which female; the latter are atop the young squash. I taped small brown bags over 10 unopened female blossoms; the idea is to ensure that no bees or other creatures pollinate those flowers. And when the flowers blossom, we’ll pollinate them with a male flower.

My first batch was an unmitigated failure. I waited too long – several days – to check back in with my little ladies. All the blossoms had either rotted or dried out in the bags.

So I tried another 10. This time, four were OK. So with a cotton swab, I transferred pollen from male flowers to the center of the female flowers. Then I taped the flowers closed and marked them with flags to make sure they don’t get picked. It’s still no guarantee of seeds – animals or other problems could still interfere. And I’ll start the process with some new plants, too, because we hope to get plenty of seeds.

Why go to all this trouble? GrowGood could easily buy seeds next spring.

Corinne asks. “Why would we buy seeds over and over from Vermont, Northern Europe, Taiwan, South Africa, when we can witness the process of nature here on our farm?”