About us

Campus Crops is a student run urban gardening initiative at McGill University's downtown campus. We want to grow food on campus, by students, for students. We have been running garden behind the School of Environment building at 3534 University since 2007. In 2009 we started a terrace garden behind the James Administration building. We're really excited to keep improving these two spaces, and need lots of helping hands for the summer ahead! Get in touch and get gardening!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pruning and vertical growing: some general guidelines

Pruning is the removal of vegetative parts (stems, leaves) of a plant. It is usually done to increase productivity, improve appearance, ensure plant health, and/or facilitate harvesting.

General guidelines
-                Tools (scissors, knives, etc.) must be cleaned and sprayed with a 70% alcohol solution (rubbing alcohol) before being used. Hands must also be washed if a diseased plant has been touched.
-                If cutting can be done near a budding region or a leaf joint, make sure you cut close to the bud while leaving it intact on the plant, as plants tend to heal rapidly there.
-                For better healing, pruning should be done at a 45° angle through the stem (a beveled cut).
-                When trying to limit the expansion of the plant, cut only the top third of a stalk (the third of the length starting from the tip) or of the plant, in the case of naturally dense plants like chives.

Plants to prune, and why
-               All crops : You definitely want to remove any yellowing or diseases leaves or fruits from any plant.
-               Tomatoes : We’ve covered that elsewhere in great details.
-               Cucumbers and squash : We’ve covered that somewhere else.
-               Tomatillo and ground cherry : Both crops are of the same genus (Physalis) and can get very bushy. Prune to limit expansion of the plants if desired. Cutting out branches will reduce the harvest, which is rarely limited if the plants are growing in proper conditions.
-               Eggplant : For large-fruit varieties, some people suggest keeping 5-6 fruits per plant to avoid breaking the stem.
-               Sunflower : Some varieties produce many flower heads, which can become too heavy and break the stem. You may want to remove some flower heads in that case.
-               Herbs & flowers : Topping some herbs and flowering plants can result in a bushier and more productive plant, or in more flowers.
-               Fruit bushes, trees, etc. : Most woody plants will need pruning at some point or another. Raspberries and blackberries, as a notable example, grow new canes every year, which bear fruits the second year, and then die the third year. For this reason, canes that have borne fruits during the summer should be cut back in late fall or early spring, when the plant is dormant. More information on pruning woody plants can be found here.

Staking and trellising
While not all crops need support to grow vertically, some do benefit from it. Different methods exist, such as staking, trellising, twining, and caging. Plants can be grown vertically to save on horizontal space, for plant health management, for aesthetic reasons, or for general plant management such as facilitating harvest. Vertically grown plants should always be installed on the north side of a garden, where they won’t shade other sun-loving plants.

Plants to grow vertically and why
-       Tomatoes : Covered in another article on this blog.
-       Cucumbers and squash : Covered in greater details right here.
-       Peas : To facilitate harvest and for health management, peas are usually grown vertically. They are, after all, climbing plants. Install a trellis of at least 4 feet high next to the peas. Training them to grow on the trellis might be necessary at first, after which the plants may climb their way up on their own.
-       Pole beans : Beans exist in two varieties, bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans do not need support and can be grown anywhere that is very sunny. Pole beans are usually grown up a piece of twine, a trellis, a pole, or a teepee of poles (see image below). Note that some varieties can grow up to 10 feet during a single season.

Via kiddiegardens.com

Pruning and trellising more stuff: cucumbers, summer squash, and winter squash

Cucumbers, summer squash, and winter squash are all cucurbits. They share similarities and differences. Cucumbers are a short-season crop, and produce continually before dying. Succession planting every 2-3 weeks ensures a continuous harvest throughout the season. They grow rambling vines, all starting from one main vine. Summer squash are mostly similar to cucumbers, although most varieties grow as a bush from which rambling vines may emerge. They are also a short-season planting and succession planting works well for a continuous harvest of summer squash. Winter squash, unlike summer squash, are harvested when mature, that is when the rind of the fruit is thick. For this reason they are long-season crops that will produce successfully only a limited amount of fruits per plant, which will have to mature throughout the season. Like cucumbers, they grow a main rambling vine, from which secondary rambling vines extend. Bush winter squash varieties also exist for gardeners with limited space.

Pruning and trellising can be helpful for the management of cucumbers, summer squash and winter squash, but are in no way necessary; all of these crops can be allowed to spread directly on the ground and all over the place. There are, though, some advantages to pruning and trellising.

Like for most crops, pruning cucurbits may be for reasons of plant health and management. Pruning is also necessary if growing cucumbers or summer squash vertically. When pruning, follow the general rules of hygiene, and cut vines either at a leaf joint (leaving the joint itself on the living plant) or as close as possible to the main vine or bush, depending on the type of cucurbit.

Removing excess anther-bearing flowers (flowers that produce pollen)
All squash produce both anther-bearing and ovary-bearing flowers. The pollen from the anthers must be carried to the ovaries in order to get fruit production; otherwise the ovaries die. Pollinators can do that just well, but hand pollinating can be helpful (see below). Especially if hand-pollinating squash or cucumber, there will be many more anther-bearing flowers than are necessary to pollinate all the ovary-bearing flowers you need. It is usually safe to remove up to half or even 2/3 of the anther-bearing flowers if you want to eat them.

Left: anther-bearing flower; right: ovary-bearing flower
Via forum.earthbox.com

Pruning excess vines
If the vines of your cucurbits are starting to take all over the place, they can be gently picked up (be careful, as they may have grown roots under leaf nodes) and moves somewhere else, like outside the garden and over a useless lawn. If space really is an issue, it is also possible to prune summer squash to 2-4 rambling vines, by cutting part of the vines or whole vines. In winter squash, non-producing secondary vines can be removed, but pruning should wait until there are already a few fruits going. For all cucurbits, removing vines will result in less production. An alternative can be to remove the growing tip of the vines a few leaves after a fruit, so the plant stops expanding in that direction.

Removing excess foliage
Not recommended for winter squash, as they need quite a lot of energy to mature the fruits, but will probably become necessary for disease management. Indeed, squash and cucumber are, most years, plagued by a fungal disease called powdery mildew, which is brought up North in Canada by strong weather systems such as hurricane tails from the United States. The disease attacks the leaves of some plants, mostly cucurbits, and is noticeable by the white powder that develops on leaves, which then yellow, wilt, and die. It spreads like crazy, carried by wind or water, and is hard to prevent and to control. Removing leaves as soon as infected can slow down the spread of the disease and give some time to the plants. Hygiene is the rule in order to prevent spreading the fungus to other plants; the gardener is a vector of diseases, after all. Infected leaves should be disposed of far away or burned. Do not compost them.

Aside from diseases, foliage can be removed from summer squash that produce rambling vines, like zucchini. Make sure to leave 5-6 leaves on each side of fruits to shade them well. Some gardeners remove leaves for reasons of management, as it is easier this way to notice when fruits are ready to harvest. It is not usual for summer squash fruits to go unnoticed for a while, hidden by a dense foliage, only to be found later in the season, too big to be eaten. Removing foliage before powdery mildew kicks in is also a better way to prevent the disease, or at least major damages to the crop.

Via paulandangelasfamily.blogspot.ca

Removing excess fruits
There is rarely such thing as excess fruits for most gardeners, and this practice is indeed controversial, but some gardeners like to remove smaller fruits from winter or summer squash in order to allow others to mature more rapidly. It sounds reasonable for winter squash, especially when the end of the season is a few weeks away and the fruits have yet to mature fully. For summer squash, though, it usually results in more loss of production than anything else. There is usually no reason to remove fruits in cucumbers.

For all cucurbits, though, removing weird-looking and diseased fruits is recommended, so as to make sure that the energy of the plant doesn’t go to waste, if the fruit ends up rotting or being inedible for some reason.

Pruning suckers and secondary vines for trellising
Like tomatoes, cucumbers have a sucker growing at each leaf joint, between the leaf itself and the main stem. Those suckers, if allowed to grow, will become stems that will produce more cucumbers. In addition to a sucker, though, each leaf joint on a cucumber plant also produces a pollen-producing flower, an ovary-bearing flower, as well as a fragile tendril that wraps around nearby objects for support and achoring.

When trellising, the first 4-6 suckers need to be removed to allow the main stem to get on the trellis. Once the plant is on the trellis, the suckers can be allowed to grow into secondary vines on the trellis. The main vine and secondary vines should be pruned near a leaf joint when growing out of the trellis. It’s also possible to try to train the vines back on the trellis, in which case pruning some leaves would be recommended if the trellis becomes too crowded.


Vertical trellis via forums.gardenweb.com
Cucumbers and summer squash with rambling vines can be trained on an upright trellis, a sloping trellis, or simply on a horizontal trellis to provide shade to another crop. Winter squash, producing heavy fruits, can’t be trained on a too steep sloping trellis, as the weight of the fruits would probably result in damage to the stem. In any case, although trellising helps for disease management, easier harvest (the fruits are easier to monitor), and results in straighter and better-looking fruits for cucumbers, the additional air flow around the plant means that the plants will need more water.
Leaning trellis via floridavegetablegarden.com

To train a cucurbit plant on a trellis, the gardener must gently direct the vine on the trellis to allow the tendrils to attach to the support. On most sloping trellises, the support provided by the tendrils will be enough for the plant to climb on its own. On vertical trellises, though, which are usually used for cucumbers, the vines will need to be attached to the trellis every foot or so with a special clip, or any type of garden twine. As is the case for tomatoes, thin twine should be avoided, as it will damage the stem.
Horizontal trellis via buildavictorygarden.com

Trellis clips

Hand pollination
The idea here is basically for the gardener to become the pollinator in order to ensure pollination of ovary-bearing flowers. Anther-bearing flowers usually have a thin and long stem, compared to that of ovary-bearing flowers, which is short and fat and may look like a tiny fruit (which it is).

To hand pollinate, simply pick a pollen-producing flower while ovary flowers are open (from 10am to noonish), remove the petals from the anther flower, and use it like a brush to rub the anthers on the central part of the ovary flowers. One anther flower can pollinize 2-3 ovary flowers. For a more detailed explanation, see this very helpful, step-by-step illustrated how-to.

More resources
All the information you need to grow cucumbers : http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scenef65b.html

A neat YouTube video to show you how to prune cucumbers for trellising : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9YQ2WsubpI

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The one and most important article on this blog: how to prune and support tomato plants

So this is it. We're doing that thing, where we're helping you with your tomato plants, THE most common garden crop in North America, and Europe, and probably somewhere else too. We assume here that you know the basics of growing tomatoes, such as full sun, full water, full nutrients, etc. A long read, but hopefully worth it. Enjoy!

The tomato being the most popular garden crop, its maintenance is very well documented. Before going further into the topic, readers should know that there exist indeterminate and determinate tomato varieties. Determinate varieties first grow vegetatively (roots, stems and leaves), then stop and produce fruits, giving a single early-season harvest. Indeterminate varieties grow and grow and grow. Determinate varieties usually do not need to be supported or pruned, while indeterminate plants absolutely need to be supported, and most people like to prune them for reasons that will be explored further below.

There are different varieties of tomatoes with different advantages and disadvantages. Without going into great details about that, let’s just say that there are tomatoes of different sizes (cherry, small, medium, and big), different colors (green, black, brown, purple, yellow, red, pink, green zebra, red zebra, etc.), and different shapes (round, beefsteak, pear-shaped, oblong, etc.). There are also varieties that are resistant to certain diseases and conditions, and other varieties that are susceptible to certain diseases and conditions (e.g. drought). There are also varieties that stay very short, which are denominated by the qualification of ‘patio’ tomatoes, and are especially well-suited for growing in containers or limited space.

When choosing a tomato seedling, make sure to choose one that is not yellowing, and that isn’t too elongated. Elongated seedlings are characterized by having a long internode (the length of stem between leaves), and thus have less leaves than a healthy seedling of a similar height. This usually happens because of improper lighting or crowding in the greenhouse, forcing the seedlings to reach out for light, and can result in more fragile stems. Contrary to the common belief, do not pick seedlings that already have flowers or fruits on them, unless it’s a patio variety. The first thing that a tomato plant should be doing upon transplanting is growing an extensive root system and a sufficient foliage to harvest all the nutrients and energy it needs to grow lots of tomatoes (and hell do they need a lot!). Once a tomato plant has started producing fruits, most of its energy goes into maturing these fruits. For this reason, such seedlings often stall growth when transplanted and get caught up, and even surpassed, by smaller fruit-less or flower-less seedlings, which then proceed to grow an earlier and more bountiful harvest later in the season (i.e. at the time when they should be). If seedlings with flowers is all you have, because of, say, cold temperatures that are extending too late into the growing season, the fruits and flowers can be removed upon or before transplantation, so the plant can focus on what matters (mainly roots). It may hurt to do so, but it’s for your own good!

As a last piece of advice, make sure not to transplant tomato seedlings too early, that is when the weather is still too cold (even if it shouldn’t be!). A lot of problems of stalled growth, root diseases, lower productivity, and bad pollination leading to catfacing can result from planting tomatoes too early. When transplanting, plant the seedling a few inches deeper than in its original pot, so as to bury the base of the stem. Tomato plants grow roots from there, which help for support and nutrient catching.

All those hairs there: future roots, I tell ya.

Once the plant is a bit more than a foot tall (30 cm), some sort of support should be provided, or else it will slump and will be hard to get back up properly. There are four methods for supporting tomatoes : staking, which consists of driving a pole into the ground next to the tomato plant and attaching the latter to the pole as it grows; trellising, with a trellis net; caging, with a tomato cage, cone, or tower; and using a twine attached to a hook or a horizontal bar over the plant. In general, providing support the earlier is the better, as big tomato plants are much harder to train and could be damaged in doing so. Staking and twining are good methods to add at the last minute, when the plants are starting to slouch over. Trellising and caging are basically impossible to do unless the plants are small enough (under one foot tall).

Staking can be done with bamboo poles, concrete rebar, T-posts, wood posts, or any other solid support. Drive the pole at least one foot into the ground to make sure it will not fall over under the weight of a 6-foot tall tomato plant full of fruits. It is better to put the post at or before the time of transplant, so as not to damage the roots of the plant. If pruning to one, two, or three stems (see below), put one post per stem. Attach the stem to the post using pieces of soft fabric to avoid damaging the stem by friction. If using twine, make sure it is thick, otherise it could cut the stem. Attach every 8-12 inches using a figure 8, with the stem in one of the loop and the pole in the other loop. This leaves enough room for the stem to grow bigger, offers a steady support, and avoids having the stem rub against the pole on windy days. For tomato varieties producing big fruits, the stem can also be attached loosely over each flower cluster using a simple loop, or ‘O’ loop. Pass the ‘sling’ right over where the cluster meets the stem, and attach it 6 inches higher on the stake (see image below). This removes some weight from the stem, which could otherwise bend and crease from the weight of all the fruits.

Via taunton.com

Trellising is usually done with a big hole mesh netting (around 6-inch-wide holes is optimal). Nylon trellis netting can be found in hardware stores or garden centers, and is usually the favorite of gardeners. The trellis should be 6 feet tall or more, and should almost reach to the ground. Tomatoes can be trained in the trellis by passing the main stem(s) alternatively behind and in front of the net, or around a vertical twine in the mesh. This should be done as the stem grows, otherwise the stem or leaves could be damaged from bending or twisting the stem too much. It is thus not a good support method to add at the last minute.

Via howlerband.com

Caging is done with the short tomato cages or cones most people put around their tomato plants. These are usually not well suited for indeterminate varieties that can reach at least 5 feet in height. There also exist tomato towers or ladders, which are similar to tomato cages but with a square or triangular frame, and are much taller. If put around the plant while it is still small enough, these provide a good method for lazy gardening, as the plant usually needs little to no training, the leaves and fruit clusters resting naturally on the horizontal bars of the tower as they get heavier.

Via forums.gardenweb.com

Finally, twining is done by attaching a twine to a stake planted near the base of the plant, or by attaching the twine directly but loosely to the base of the plant, and attaching the other end to a support over the tomato plant. The plant then needs to be trained around the twine, clockise or counter-clockwise, the friction with the twine being what supports the plant. Unlike other methods, it offers no additional support to fruit clusters, and may thus be inappropriate for varieties producing heavy fruits. The twine can be attached over the plant to a hook, a vertical post (this way you can have many plants growing at an angle toward a single post), or a horizontal post (such as with an A-frame). It is a good method for tomato plants that have gotten quite big and need a last minute support method.

Via Campus Crops

The main reasons to prune tomatoes are plant health, ease to harvest, and sometimes to save on horizontal space. But first, let’s look at a tomato seedling :

As we can see, the tomato plant usually grows one main stem, from which grow leaves (composite leaves, each of which being one leaf starting from the stem, and not many leaves on one "branch"). It’s possible to keep the tomato plant with only one stem, but it’s also possible to prune for two, three, or four main stems, or not prune at all, for reasons we’ll explore below. What’s important to know is that each stem starts by producing leaves, and then starts producing flowers clusters at a somewhat regular interval.

Now if we look at the plant where the main stem meets a leaf, we can see another stem branching out at a 45° angle between both:

That’s a sucker (that’s really what it’s called). If left on its own, it will become a stem, producing leaves and flowers, but relying on the same root network than the main stem. It is common for suckers to grow again where one has been previously removed, so check your whole tomato plants regularly! Just like the head of the main stem, suckers have a zone of continuous growth at their top. Be sure not to remove the head of the plant while pruning! If that happens, a sucker can be allowed to grow and become the "new" main stem.

A few things can be concluded from this :
1) The more stems, the more leaves, and thus the less aeration.
2) The more stems, the more tomatoes.
3) The more fruits produced, the more nutrient and water needed.
3.1) The more nutrient and water needed, the more intensive the culture is and/or the more extensive the root network has to be.

1) Health
More leaves means less aeration, which means greater chances of developing fungal diseases, especially in a relatively humid climate like Québec. It also makes it easier for diseases and pests to spread from stem to stem, and from plant to plant. This is why most people remove suckers from their tomato plants, allowing a few to grow near the base to obtain two, three, or four stems.

A lot of diseases, and especially fungal diseases, can stay dormant in the soil as spores. When watering your garden, it is possible that some soil may splash on the lowest leaves of your tomato plants, allowing fungal diseases to develop. A first solution is to put mulch under tomato plants, whether black plastic mulch (not any black plastic, though) or woodchips, making sure the mulch doesn’t touch the stem of the plant. Another easy thing to do is to prune the lowest leaves at the bottom 6-8 inches of the plant, once it’s comfortably tall (you don’t want to remove half the leaves from a plant by pruning it).

It is also possible to remove leaves (especially recommended for diseased leaves), but one thing to keep in mind is to try, as much as possible, not to prune the leaf right above a fruit cluster. The leaves will provide shade to the fruits and avoid problems such as sunscald, which is similar to a sunburn for tomatoes. Sunscald mostly happens when tomatoes are exposed to intense direct sunlight under hot conditions, and although the fruit is still edible, it is also more susceptible to black mold.

2) Productivity
As has been said, the more stems are allowed to grow, the more tomatoes are produced. For health reasons, as seen above, most people keep up to four main stems and prune all other suckers, although it can be totally ok to let an indeterminate tomato plant go crazy. Apparently, pruning to less stems allows for an earlier harvest, with bigger but less numerous fruits.

3) Nutrients and water
More growth and more production are only possible if water and nutrients are present in sufficient conditions. For this reason, it is usually preferable to prune container-grown tomato plants to one main stem, because of the limited amount of water that is available in a container. Nutrients can also be limiting in containers, unless the plants are fertilized properly. Water is crucial for good growth, and most importantly for the production of good fruits, which may crack or develop other problems under limited water conditions.

For tomatoes that are grown in the soil, nutrients can also be limiting, but water rarely is. Managing the plants, preventing diseases, and facilitating harvest will be the main reasons why tomatoes grown in soil will be pruned.

For all indeterminate varieties, and even more so for bigger tomatoes, the head should be removed about 4 weeks before the first frost date. When headless, the plant can no longer grow, and spends its energy to the maturing of tomatoes. The head is pinched to make sure that all tomatoes and flowers produced by the plant so far will have enough time to turn into mature tomatoes. Otherwise, green tomatoes that were still expanding in size, and were thus not technically ripening, will never turn red; there’s just no way they’ll ever ripen. Small tomatoes will need less time to ripen, so 2-3 weeks before the first frost date may suffice, but huge tomatoes will need 4 weeks or more.

Simple vs Missouri pruning
Before we let you rush back to your garden, we’ll detail the two different ways of pruning suckers: simple pruning and missouri pruning.

Simple pruning is used for suckers up to 4 inches long. The method is to take the sucker between thumb and forefinger, and to rock it back and forth in order to snap it off clear from the stem. No breakage, no mess, just a clear break. If it doesn’t work, it is because the sucker is too big. Switch to missouri pruning.

Missouri pruning is used to control those larger suckers that escaped your attention and are now becoming a life-sucking stem. The method here is simply to pinch the head of the sucker, or in other words to remove the zone of continuous growth, Simply pinch it off with your fingernails, or use clean pruners.

To remove leaves, cut them near the stem using clean pruners.

More info on growing tomatoes

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Changes to the gardening hours

Just a little notice.

Gardening hours have been changed for the week gardening sessions in order to accomodate people who work during the day.

Tuesday 5-7pm
Thursday 5-7pm
Sunday still 4-6pm

See you in the garden!

The garden's self-reproduction: saving seeds for an autonomous garden

Saving seeds is not essential but is certainly critical in order to reduce operation costs and increase autonomy. It’s also a guaranteed source of organic seeds! Like harvesting, it may be obvious how to collect the seeds of some crops, while other crops will leave one clueless. Here are some info, methods and tips to harvest seeds from the most commonly grown crops in our gardens.

Rules of thumb:

1. Most root crops are biennial and need to be stored indoors over the winter, or under a thick layer of mulch and other protection if kept in the garden. It’s nearly impossible to keep biennial and perennial plants alive throughout the winter in containers, as the roots usually freeze completely and die.
2. Most brassicas seeds are collected the same way.
3. Do not harvest seeds from diseased plants, seed heads or fruits.
4. The blender method for fruits goes as follow:
  • Put the fruits (halved) with water in a blender (about 25% fruit an 75% water). Blend well at low speed, until the seeds are separated from the pulp. Let sit.
  • Viable seeds will sink to the bottom, while debris and bad seeds will float.  Stir gently the floating pulp to allow good seeds that got trapped to sink to the bottom.  
  • Fill gently with water to the top and flush out some water with the pulp that follows. 
  • When good seeds are starting to move with the water, re-fill and re-flush. 
  • Repeat until all the pulp has been removed and only good seeds remain. One can also use a net to catch some of the pulp at the beginning, in order to speed up the process (and use less water).
  • Pour the water+seeds into a fine strainer. Set on a towel to remove excess water, and lay out on a hard non-porous surface to dry, in a single layer. Use your fingers to separate clumps of seeds if any. Small seeds generally dry quickly.

Types of plants :
-Annuals (A) produce seeds the same year as they come to maturity. They usually die after producing seeds. Some plants which are not annual are treated as such under a cold climate like ours.

-Biennials (B) come to maturity on their first year and produce seeds on their second year of life. They must be protected during winter either by covering them or bringing them inside and planting them back outside in spring.

-Perennials (P) produce seeds every year, but never die after producing them. Some perennials rarely or never produce seeds when grown in a garden; they most often need to be propagated by root cuttings.

-Self-pollinated (s-p): Some plants do not need the help of pollinators in order to pollinate their flowers and produce viable fruits and seeds. Each flower contains both a "male" (anthers) and "female" (ovaries) parts, so the pollen doesn’t need to be transferred between flowers. This limits the risks of cross-pollination (when the pollen of one variety pollinates the flower of another variety, mixing genes from both varieties in the seeds) and these plants will "always" produce seeds that are true to their variety. Pollinators do collect pollen in their flowers, though, so it’s possible that seeds may not be true, although it’s really rare.

-Cross-pollinated (c-p): Flowers only contain either the anthers or ovary, so pollen needs to be carried from anthers-carrying flowers to ovaries, in order for them to develop into fruits. Ovaries of one crop or variety that are pollinated by pollen from another crop/variety will yield a normal fruit, although the crop resulting from the seeds of this fruit (or the fruits of said crop) will not be true to either crop/variety (i.e. you’ll get a hybrid, and it’s probably not gonna be good).

Beets and swiss chards, for example, can cross-pollinate, but the result will be neither a root like beets, nor a leafy green like chards. Broccoli and cauliflower can also cross-pollinate, and will give a mixed crop that will be neither broccoli nor cauliflower (nor a happy mix of both). Gardeners have to erect barriers of any kind to prevent cross-pollination between compatible crops or plant them far away from each other (at least 50-100 feet between different varieties).

Tips & Resources
See this website for useful info on recommended distances and dominant and recessive genes.

Seeds are stored in an air-tight container (except for peas and beans, which like air) labeled with name of crop, variety, year, and any other relevant information (e.g. resistance). Proper seed storage conditions are dry and cool. Most seeds can be frozen without harm if properly dried.

Onion, leek, corn and parsnip seeds have a much shorter shelf-life than other vegetable seeds. Seeds can usually be kept 4-5 years in proper conditions.

Do not harvest seeds from diseased plants, fruits, seedpods, seedheads, etc. Do not harvest seeds from unripe fruit or immature seedpods or seedheads either: the seeds are not likely to be ready and may have difficulty germinating (if they germinate at all).

Turn and spread seeds several times while they dry. The bigger the seed, the longer for it to dry completely. The drying process can be hastened by gently heating and/or aerating the seeds, as long as the temperature does not exceed 38°C.

--> Brassicas
-----Broccoli (c-p, A)
Will cross with cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi.

Like most brassicas, the broccoli will send out a stalk bearing small yellow flowers. These will turn into small pods. Pick the pods when they are dry and brittle.

Thresh by hand (or otherwise if you want), and separate the chaff using appropriate screens, or a fan or hair dryer.

-----Brassicas (c-p, B)
Include cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi.

Must be overwintered outdoors or indoors like beets, carrots, etc. (i.e. outdoors = thick mulch, indoors = near-freezing temperatures + high humidity)

Plant back in spring 2-3 feet apart.

For cabbages, cross-cut about 1 inch deep into the center of each head to favor seed stalk emergence. Stake, as they grow up to 6 feet tall the second year.

Cauliflower does not overwinter well indoors or outdoors.

All brassicas produce pods (like broccoli) that will dry. Harvest the pods before they are completely dry, as they tend to eject seeds when fully dried. Process like broccoli seeds.

-----Lettuce (s-p, A)
Lettuce seeds are usually harvested in September or October. Some cultivars will not produce seeds before the plants are frozen or dead (i.e. they don’t produce seeds).

When flowering, lettuce sends up a stalk up to a meter tall, atop which will be flowers. These flowers will produce small airborne seeds similar to those of dandelion (with a parachute-like structure of hairs). Seeds can be harvested when the parachute is formed.

To harvest seeds, one can either pick bunches of seeds at a time from the stalk, or wait until about a third of the flowers have turned into viable seed and cut the stalk. The stalk can then be turned upside down over a container and shaken, or the seedheads can be rubbed between thumb and forefinger over a container.

The seeds must then be left to dry for a few days on trays in a warm and airy place. The seeds are viable for 4 years in proper storage conditions.

-----Spinach (c-p, A)
Spinach sends out a stalk bearing flowers. Seeds can be stripped directly from the stalk. Use the usual methods to remove any chaff.

-----Swiss chard (c-p, B)
Will cross with beets.

Hardy enough to be left outdoors throughout winter. Cut the stalk an inch over the soil surface and cover with thick mulch in fall, before heavy frost.

The next spring, trim to about 2 feet apart. The plants will grow stalks similar to beets, on which seeds similar to beets can be stripped from the stalk quite similarly like beets.

-----Beets (c-p, B)
Will cross with swiss chard.

Beets can be left to overwinter by covering with a thick layer of mulch (not sure if recommended for our climate). They can also be brought indoors. In that case, pull them before heavy frost in fall and cut the tops 1 inch above the crown. Handle carefully as damaged beets will rot. Store at 4-10°C in dampened sand or fresh sawdust until spring.

In spring, replant beets when it’s safe to plant them. Thin or plant beets at 2 feet apart, crowns even with the soil surface.

In summer, the plants will completely dry. Seeds can be stripped from the stalks.

-----Carrots (c-p, B)
Will cross with Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot).

In fall, before heavy frost, bring inside like you would with beets. Cut the tops 1 inch above the crown. Store at 4-10°C in dampened sand or fresh sawdust until spring. Some people only save and replant the crown, cutting out the rest of the root.

In spring, plant one foot apart. During the summer, carrots will grow stalks up to 6 feet tall. They produce umbels (flower heads). Seeds are ready when brown, around September. Umbels can be picked as they mature, or one can cut whole stalks and let to cure (dry) for a few weeks (usually upside down, the umbels wrapped loosely in paper bags).

Rub off seeds when completely dry. Use a screen to remove chaff.

-----Garlic & potatoes
Clonally reproduced by replanting properly saved tubers or bulbs.

Garlic must be planted in fall and covered with thick mulch.

Potatoes have their own saga on our blog.

-----Leek (c-p, B) & scallion
May cross with onions.

Overwinter easily. Cover with a thick mulch in fall, before heavy frost. Harvest any plant that does not look healthy.

The next year, the leek will send a stalk with a flower. As soon as the black seeds are visible in the flowers, cut the flower head and hang upside down, wrapped in a paper bag.

-----Onion (c-p, B)
Use harvested, dried and cured onions. Replant in early spring.

Flowering and seed harvesting are the same as for leek.

-----Parsnip (c-p, B)
Bring indoors like carrots.

Harvest seeds when dry and light brown. Seeds fall off the plant readily, so do not delay harvest.

-----Radish (c-p, A/B)
Treat as annual if planted in spring, will produce seeds in fall. Treat as biennial if planted in fall, same procedure as beets (harvest in fall, cut the tops, keep indoors in humid and cold conditions, replant in early spring every 20-25 cm, 5 cm deep).

Seeds are ready when seed pods are brown. If the pods are not ready at the end of the season, pull out the entire plant and hang to dry in a cool and dry location.

Open pods by hand, or smash with a mallet.

-----Shallots (c-p, B)
Generally propagated vegetatively by replanting shallots, but can be left to go to seed.

After being harvested, dried and cured, shallot bulbs can be replanted. Shallots grow better in cold conditions, so plant only in early spring or early fall. Better yields are obtained in fall, although shallots can be lost to frost.

-----Turnip (c-p, B)
Same procedure as beets (mulch in fall or take indoors for winter, cut tops to 2 inches). Plant at least 2 feet apart in early spring.

Will produce pods (like other brassicas). Harvest individual pods as they turn brown; green pods do not give viable seeds.

To thresh, place dry pods in a cloth bag. Walk over them or smash with a mallet. Separate from chaff.

-----Eggplant (s-p, A)
With a fruit that has fully ripened on the plant, one can cut the seedy part of the fruit into cubes and use the blender method (as for ground cherries and tomatillos).

-----Ground cherries & tomatillos (s-p, A)
Harvest fruits when ripe. Let ripen about a week after picking.

Use the blender method.

-----Peppers (s-p, P)
Perennial treated as annual.

Pick a ripe fruit and rub the seed mass to collect the seeds. Dry on a hard non–porous surface.

Easy peasy.

-----Tomatoes (s-p, A)
The blender method can be used, but tomato seeds tend to get diseases. To prevent this, a fermentation process is preferable.

1) Pick really ripe tomatoes and cut in half at their equator. Extract the gel-like juice from the cavities. If done properly, the tomato can still be eaten afterward. Collect the juice and seeds in a clean container (clean is important, as we’re kinda trying to prevent diseases here).

2) Then, if processing a few tomatoes only, add a little water to the mix. If processing large amounts of tomatoes, the water from the tomatoes should be enough. Put a lid on the container and label with date and what’s in it.

3) Store the container in a warm location (15-25°C) for about three days, stirring once every day. After a couple of days, a layer of fungus will form on the liquid. This fungus eats the gel coat around the seeds and produce antibiotics that will get rid of seed-borne diseases.

4) After three days, add warm water to the container, let sit until everything settles (good seeds will be at the bottom, all the crap we don’t want will float at the top), and then start pouring gently to evacuate the floating stuff. Re-fill and re-pour until the water is quite clean.

5) Pour the water+seeds into a fine strainer. Set on a towel to remove excess water, and lay out on a hard non-porous surface to dry, in a single layer. Use your fingers to separate clumps of seeds if any. The seeds are small so they generally dry quickly.

--> Misc. fruits
-----Beans & peas (s-p, A)
Dry bean pods: awaytogarden.com
Pick the pods when dry, when a thumbnail can’t make a dent in the seeds.

Let the pods dry for another few days, more if picked in wet or humid weather. If it applies, wait until the seeds rattle in the pod when shaken.

Then, remove the seeds from their pods. This can be done by hand or, for large quantities, the pods can be threshed in a threshing box or on any kind of tarp by stepping on them (in that case, do it 
barefoot and be sure that the seeds are very dry in order not to damage them).

Dry pea pods: yearroundharvest.com
Separate the beans from the chaff using appropriate screens, wind (simply pour the seeds+chaff into another container from a certain height during a windy-yet-not-too-much day; the chaff will be carried away by the wind while the beans will fall straight into the receiving container), water (chaff and bad seeds will float; viable seeds will need to be dried again), or air compressor.

Not necessary, but it’s good to let seeds dry again after threshing, in a warm and airy location for a few more days. Inspect seeds to remove damaged or otherwise suspect ones. The seeds will be completely dry when they collapse into powder upon smashing with a hammer.

Properly dried beans and peas can be frozen without harm to get rid of any insects that could be hiding in the lot.

It can be interesting to separate seeds from particular plants or pods and label them, as they can be used for artificial selection. For example, rattlesnake beans have green-and-purple pods, but they sometimes produce pods that are greener or more purple than the average. Purple or green rattlesnake beans could probably be obtained after a few generations.

-----Cucumber (c-p, A)
Cross with one another but not with other cucurbitaceae (squash, gourds).

Let the fruit ripen past edible shape. The fruit will become golden, yellow or white. The vines can die from frost at that point without harming the seeds.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the pulp and seeds in a non-metallic container. Leave in a warm location to ferment for 3-4 days, stirring a few times every day, until the pulp turns liquid. Good seeds will sink to the bottom, bad seeds will float.

Dry in a warm and airy location, stirring once in a while to encourage uniform drying. Seeds will be dry when they are not slippery to the touch and can be broken neatly (not bent).

-----Squash & pumpkins (c-p, A)
Four different species: Cucurbita pepo (summer squashes, acorn squashes, orange pumpkin types, Delicata, Lady Godiva, and Spaghetti), Cucurbita maxima (buttercup, hubbard, Delicious, Banana, and Hokkaido), Cucurbita moschata (Butternut and Cheese), and Cucurbita mixta (Cushaw squashes).

Won’t cross with cucumbers and melons, nor between species. Will cross within species (e.g. acorn and spaghetti can cross, and the squash grown from their seed will be neither one nor the other).

If growing many species at once, ovary flowers should be wrapped in paper bags and fertilized by hands to prevent cross-pollination.

Summer squash must be left on the vine 8 weeks past its normal harvesting date, until its skin is as hard as a winter squash.

Winter squash and pumpkin will give more vigorous seeds if left on the vine as long as possible, about a month or two past their normal harvesting date. They can tolerate some frost.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and separate them from the stringy-pulpy-whatever material in which they’re entangled (do it in a bowl filled with water if necessary). Wash the seeds and lay them out on a tray in a warm and airy location, stirring them at least once a day to encourage drying. Keep plump seeds only; flat seeds are not viable.

-----Chives (P)
Harvest seed heads when seeds are black. Let dry for a few more weeks.

Rub off the seeds with hands.

-----Dill & parsley (B)
Grown as annuals.

In the carrot family. Produce umbels like carrots. Harvest and process like carrot seeds.

-----Other herbs
Basil flowers: malaysiaria.com.my
Most herbs produce long stalks, “towers” of small flowers. Harvest seeds when the flowers have turned brown and you can see the black seeds inside the flowers (if big enough). Thresh the seed heads by rubbing them between hands.

Different for each flower. Here are a few common garden flowers.

-----Calendula (c-p, A)
Let flowers dry and fold onto themselves, until brown and hard. 

Harvest by removing the hard parts from the flower.

To improve production, harvest flowers as soon as they open; calendula greatly (!) increases flower production when harvested regularly.

-----Sunflower (c-p, A)
Save seeds like you’d harvest them (but don’t bake them).

-----Rhubarb (P)
Usually propagated from root cuttings. If done so, it is recommended to divide the crown in early spring or late fall, when the plant is dormant. Dig out the crown without damaging roots, and use a sharp knife to cut a part of the crown (the big red roots near the soil surface). Replace soil over crown and plant cutting as soon as possible.

-----Strawberry blite (A)
Harvest the berries when of a dark pink color. Dry them directly, or separate seeds by crushing the berries and mixing with water. Tiny seeds, so a very fine strainer must be used.

Self-seeding, so if you want it at the same spot the following year, you can just let some of the berries fall to the ground.