Let's just say I have a fair amount of time on my hands and not a whole lot of money. Add to that a curious mind with a bit of a preparedness mindset and you get someone who likes to experiment with produce and gardening. I wanted to share some of my experiences with growing plants straight out of my kitchen, often from produce bought at the grocery store that was meant to be eaten but didn't make it to the table, or had the seeds removed first.
If you've seen some of the propaganda out these days on our food supply, you might, like me, have become fearful about what we are feeding our children.
I saw videos about potatoes that will not grow being sold in the grocery stores and I have heard stories about the seeds in our produce somehow becoming inactive. I wanted to see for myself if the food that I feed my family is that horrific and unnatural that it cannot reproduce or grow anymore itself. I'm not saying whether the food is bad or good, obviously it would be best if we could all grow our own food supply in a healthy, sustainable manner but that's an entirely different topic. I am saying that some of the propaganda is just that, or that my produce bought at my local, inexpensive chain style grocery store is possibly not as processed, or treated as some of the other stuff that was used in the tests that I have seen or heard about. To be clear, these are my tests and results, I won't compare them with any others except for my own previous growing experience because there are just too many variables. The hope here is that you might try some of these ideas and see for yourself what might work and what won't.
You might be asking yourself "Why is this relevant?" Well, in our dependant society we just don't know what could disrupt the fragile food supply, when it could happen or for how long. Access to fresh, viable seeds might be an issue for you when it all goes down. Not only that, availability could also be an issue, last spring I had to go to four different stores looking for seed potatoes and onions. I wondered if I couldn't find them in time, would it be that important to simply not plant those particular items? Of course, it would be not a huge issue to just buy them when I need them for now when all things are just a drive or click away, but I wanted to know if there was a way to make do without. as
Some of you might find this material interesting, some might find it educational, many of you will undoubtedly get a good laugh at my level of inexperience. That's okay, but in TEOTWAWKI there might be a whole lot of people trying to do what I am attempting to do now. In all fairness I am not a master gardener, or a soil expert, I just have an interest in gardening and seed saving.
I believe that many people would actually be less practiced and less educated (if you can believe it) then me if the food supply ran dry and we had to rely on farming.
I am certain that there are many variables and my experiments likely will not produce the same results for someone else, somewhere else, or even for myself in the same situation next year. Just a few of the many variables might include the type of produce purchased, the brand name, the growing area, the soil composition and light and water requirements for growing or for what the produce was grown in or around.
The point is to try for yourself if you have the time, space or the curiosity.
To start, I used grocery store fruit and vegetables. Everything was purchased at a regular inexpensive chain type grocery store. I used regular produce, inexpensive and not labeled organic or pesticide free with exception of the strawberries which I bought on sale that were labeled organic.
When I say that I dried the seeds, all I did was scoop them out, and lay them somewhere to dry for at least two weeks occasionally turning or shaking them. With the squash, pumpkin and melon, I rinsed the seeds off first then dried them for at least three weeks before placing them in storage. My method of storing them is to put them in an unbleached envelope labeled by type of seed and the date, and catalogued in a file system, stored in a cool and dark place.
Garlic- I left the whole garlic heads in the fridge and when I didn't use them, they eventually began to sprout. I generally prefer to overwinter my garlic but I planted the cloves in the spring anyhow. I harvested them in late August and the result was not as good as my usual crop. They were smaller with smaller cloves but they did grow and produce. Perhaps if I had been able to plant them in the fall as I usually do, they would have been the same size as my usual garlic harvest.
Watermelon- Watermelon seeds are becoming harder and harder to find in store bought fruit. I was lucky enough to find two seeds that I planted directly into the garden without drying them. Unfortunately there was no growth.
Pumpkin- I bought a pumpkin last year and dried the seeds. This summer I planted them and did get some growth. Most of the seeds did sprout and began to grow but none made it long enough to produce any larger leaves, flowers or pumpkins. I probably would have done better if I sprouted the seeds indoors and planted them earlier.
Tomato- I bought some larger tomatoes but one or two of them didn't make it to the table. I sliced them open and scooped out the seeds to dry. In the spring I planted them and was very pleased to see them growing. Unfortunately my tomato harvest was not a large one this year probably because I just didn't plant enough of them. The plants did produce a good quality of tomato, resulting in about six or seven tomatoes per plant.
Carrot- I remembered an experiment from grade school science class when we cut off the tops of carrots and put them in water to grow. I tried to replicate that experiment with no good results.
Melon- I planted the seeds directly in the garden from a fruit bought at the store. The plants grew nicely and did finally begin to flower and produce fruit. There were a surprising amount of melons on each plant however they just didn't seem to have enough time to mature even in this years extended growing period. Next year I'll try starting them indoors early in pots that can be planted into the garden.
Potato- I bought a ten pound bag of potatoes and left a few in the dark to grow eyes. Once they did, I planted them in a pail in the hopes of creating a makeshift potato tower. Although they did try to grow, nothing much came of it. There were sprouts and leaves protruding through the soil but they soon wilted and died. I recently learned that potatoes like good drainage and the pail I used did not have holes drilled into the bottom which could certainly have contributed to my poor results. I think next year I'll try them in the garden.
Winter Squash- I just love squash. I planted the seeds in early spring and carefully tended to them. They sprouted and grew nicely for the most part with only one plant remaining small with no flowers and therefore no fruit. The others did well and the plants looked good but again, the squash seems premature and there is not enough time for them to mature. I never grew winter squash before so I have no comparison but each plant aside from the one that did not produce, gave one or two premature squash. This would be another one to be sure to plant early indoors in pots that can go directly into the garden.
Strawberry- I have never had any success with the 'grow your own' strawberry kits and I always wondered if there was another way of growing strawberries without buying any kits or seeds or plants. I bought some organic strawberries on sale and half of them were too ripe to eat. I planted them in early summer in a pot, whole, with the tops sticking out (this is when the experienced gardeners are likely shaking their heads). I took great care of them, making sure they had plenty of sun and just enough water. In the end all I got was a pot of dirt with some dried leaves sticking out.
Peppers- I tried four types of peppers this year, again all seeds from grocery store bought produce, and none had been labeled organic.
Bell Pepper- I sowed the seeds directly from the pepper without drying. The plants were ok looking, perhaps a little on the weak side compared to the seedlings I usually buy to plant. All of them did grow and did flower, most of them did produce nicely with good quality peppers averaging from one to four peppers on a single stalk.
Habanero Type- Sad story here, I dried the seeds, planted them directly in the garden in the summer and had no growth.
Cayenne- I dried the seeds from the store bought packet of peppers. There was growth and production but not as much as I'm used to growing from seedlings that were already started. The peppers were smaller and there were perhaps a few less then usual.
Jalapeno Type- I dried the seeds from store bought jalapeno style peppers and sowed them straight into the garden. The plants looked good and the production was good. I had never planted jalapeno peppers before so I do not have other experience to draw on, just that they produced a decent amount of about three peppers per stalk.
All in all, it was a good experience despite some of the less desirable results. Reviewing these results shows me that I do have a lot to learn but at least some were very successful. I will continue to try to grow free seeds from the produce I buy, not only does it give free, viable fresh seeds, but I can also learn along the way.
I did recently get my hands on some good books on saving seeds. Flipping through them shows that that seed saving is not as easy as one might think. Some variables include humidity, drying time and drying temperature. Some seeds require specific treatment before they are able to germinate, and most require a steady soil temperature to sprout. Some seeds also need to be a certain temperature before they will sprout, as in freezing. There is a lot to learn in the science and miracle of seed saving and food growing. With the time honored tradition of saving seeds you are giving yourself a cushion of security regardless of what the future holds.
It is my hope that my experiments with produce, seed saving and growing will inspire you to try your own. Good luck.
JWR Adds: Be advised that much of the produce found in grocery stores comes from hybridized seed stock. Saving those seeds will sometimes result in poor yields in subsequent generations. For long term survival, open-pollinated non-hybrid seed (often called heirloom seed) is recommended.