For many gardeners, space for growing plants is valuable real estate, whether in a backyard vegetable garden, a community garden plot, or in the beds and borders surrounding a house. Good planning and creative use of available land is part of any good garden design, and for seed savers, smart design plays a truly critical role. With some careful planning and smart space ideas, you can yield plenty from even a small garden plot.
Garden Space Planning:
When garden space is limited, you may want to bear in mind how much of the garden will be occupied by a particular seed crop. Decisions about what seed crops are worth the space they occupy may be influenced by the size of the plants at seed maturity, the recommended population size for maintaining a variety, and the length of time the plants will occupy valuable garden space.
You may also want to think about the availability of a variety from other sources and the amount of seed that can be collected from a harvest and used in seasons to come. For example, a gardener with a few raised beds may have a hard time allocating the necessary space to grow a kale crop to seed, even if a modest population size is used, because the plants are large and require relatively wide spacing. Kale also requires vernalization before flowering, so it occupies garden space for a longer period of time than most annual crops. Additionally, many home gardeners grow only a few kale plants each season, and so a single packet of seeds will provide enough seeds for several growing seasons at a modest price. In contrast, it is not uncommon for gardeners to grow dozens or hundreds of lettuce plants in a single season, especially if the crop is harvested as baby lettuce and succession planted. When you take into consideration the prolific nature of lettuce plants (a single plant can produce more than a thousand seeds) and their relatively small garden footprint (lettuce seeds can be collected from a smaller population size, and plants can be spaced more closely together than kale), it might make more sense to routinely save seeds from lettuce, but to buy kale seeds every few years. However, if the kale variety is rare, and the lettuce cultivar is readily available, a gardener may choose to collect the kale seeds and purchase the lettuce seeds.
Space for Seed Saving:
When the fruits or seeds are the edible part of a plant, additional space in the garden is not necessary when saving seeds. Provided they can be properly isolated, these crops are often ideal for saving seeds in smaller gardens. For example, seed savers can simply harvest a few properly isolated fruits from a planting of peppers being grown for eating and have seeds for many seasons to come. Although cross-pollinating crops, such as winter squash and melons, may require hand-pollination in order to produce true-to-type seeds and can take up plenty of space in the garden, they also work well for space-conscious seed savers because seed production occurs concurrently with crop production—the seeds can be collected from fruits that are harvested to eat.
Isolation distances are the space required between cross-compatible plants to prevent their cross-pollination. A thoughtfully planned garden will either meet necessary isolation distances between varieties of species that may cross-pollinate or use flowering distractions and physical barriers to help reduce these distances. These companion plantings can have additional benefits such as supporting a healthy mix of beneficial insects and pollinators.
Ready to dive into gardening for seed saving? The Seed Garden is a go-to resource and includes in-depth instructions, information, and advice, including crop-by-crop growing guides on the art and practice of seed saving.