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Save the seeds and keep enjoying the plant for years to come
These heirloom peppers are among the varieties of vegetables collected by the Appalachian Studies Center at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. - photo by For The Times

Want success with seeds?

Growing seeds to the flowering or fruiting stage is not as easy as Jack growing beanstalks. Here are some tips to get you started.

Go to the source

Well-regarded seed catalogs include seed-starting tips on their Web sites. Some have photos or videos of the process step by step; Botanical Interests, a family business based in Colorado, even has an iPhone application.

Make them a good home

Juice and milk cartons cut down to half their height, eggshells, liter plastic bottles and plastic lidded tubs that held roasted chickens purchased at the grocer’s are among the containers that can be recycled as pots for starting seeds. They all should be soaked in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water before each reuse.

Presoak most seeds to speed germination

Start seeds in a commercial soilless seed-starting mix. The ingredients are sterile, thereby preventing soil-borne diseases from killing your seedlings.

Start them outside slowly

Before transplanting seedlings outdoors, put them outside for a few hours a day, in a location protected from direct sun and wind, so they gradually adjust to the new conditions and to avoid stress. This generally takes about a week.

The Dallas Morning News

Jim Veteto spends his free time driving through the mountains of North Georgia and western North Carolina, searching for seeds.

Specifically, Veteto, head of the Seed Saving Project at the University of Georgia, is looking for fruits and vegetables that are unique to the Appalachian region. For generations, farmers in this area have grown unique varieties of beans, peas, tomatoes and even onions, and unless these plants get passed on to the next generation, they could be lost forever.

"It’s definitely the older population, not the younger, who are maintaining these varieties," said Veteto during a workshop at the annual Georgia Organics conference, which was held in February in Athens.

So, Veteto is on a mission to recover the seeds and preserve them. And the seed-saving process is so simple, he says, others can take part in saving unique varieties of plants, too.

"Most of what I gather are from families and are harder to find," he said. "A lot of these backyard varieties are like that. They’re bred to feed a family for the entire growing season."

And you never know what you might find at a roadside stand or farmers market. The central and southern Appalachian region has some of the most diverse heirloom crops in all of North America.

Take a sugar and spice pumpkin Veteto found in North Carolina, growing alongside hickory king corn. The pumpkin, he said, "was as sweet as it could be," even though it looked like a regular Halloween carving pumpkin. The corn grew more than 7 feet tall.

Karrie Fadroski, a biology professor at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, has been working with the college’s Appalachian Studies Center to collect samples of locally grown heirloom seeds. She agreed that this area has many unique varieties of corn or squash.

She and her colleagues have collected samples of about 30 different varieties of vegetables, most grown in and around Dahlonega. Some even come from students, who remember their grandparents growing the vegetables and never thought they were particularly unique.

If you are interested in saving seeds, Veteto said, the process is fairly simple. The trick is to find a method that lets you completely dry the seeds. Once they are dry, putting them in the refrigerator or freezer will lengthen their shelf life; an airtight container in a dark place will also keep them until the next growing season.

There are three main components to saving seeds: Light, temperature and moisture.

The best plants for novice seed savers, Veteto said, are beans and peas. "Ideally, if you’re saving pole beans or bush beans, you want to let them dry out on the pod," he said. "But if you’ve got real wet weather, you want to bring them in."

Tomatoes are a little trickier because of the gelatinous sack around the seeds in the fruit. In order for the seed to germinate, you need to mimic the same process that would happen if the tomato reseeded itself.

In other words, you have to mimic the tomato rotting on the ground, which is breaks up that goo around the tomato seeds.

"The way they spread naturally, they rot on the ground and in two to three days later they start to germinate," he said.

But another aspect of seed saving is keeping what you’re growing from year to year true to the original plant. That is, certain plants, like corn, don’t self-pollinate. That means pollen from other corn plants grown nearby — or, even a few miles away — can carry on the wind and pollinate your carefully preserved variety of corn, changing the variety of what you’re growing.

"Corn is a little tricky, but there are some things you can do. If you’re in the mountains in a hollow, you can isolate like that," he said. "Or maybe you have a field with forests around it. But if not, you have to pollinate yourself — which is mostly labor intensive."

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