A quote from none other than George Washington greets you just inside the pages of Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough's book The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.
"Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and season passes away unimproved."
With the passing of summer (the autumnal equinox will occur tomorrow, September 23rd at approximately 9:04am) and the approach of harvest, it is not too early to begin thinking of seed saving.
If you are like me, you've been finding ways to finagle fresh sweet corn into your dinner since the first ears started appearing in your local stores and roadside stands. Growing up in the Midwest, the end of summer was synonymous with corn, a seasonal treat that I have never once been able to get enough of. Whether you are grabbing a grilled cob from a stand in a street festival of a major city or sampling any number of dishes at corn festivals across the country, one thing is clear, fresh sweet corn makes a difference.
So taking a cue from our good pal George Washington, let's insist that are preparations for next year are not lost, and that this already great season is only improved upon. What follows are excerpts from The Complete Guide to Seed Saving, (pg 108-109, if you're reading along from home) on sweet corn. You'll find a mix of technically precise language as well as easy to follow cues on how to save your seeds and improve upon last year's harvest.
"A corn seed is an indehiscent fruitlet called a caryopsis. Corn seeds sometimes germinate on the plant under wet conditions (vivipary)."
"Select ears for such desired characteristics as size, early bearing, and tolerance to drought or temperature conditions. The uppermost ear is often the largest. Ears are usually ready to be harvested from 4 to 6 weeks after they have reached the eating stage. In short-season locales, pick ears when the husks are brown. If seeds are mature, a light freeze shouldn't hurt them. But do harvest before a hard freeze for best seed quality..."
"After harvesting, pull back the husks to expose the seed. Hang to dry further indoors in a cool location until completely dry, 2 weeks or longer. Seeds that are not completely cured may heat in storage, reducing germination percentage. Husk the ears, and place them on a screen to dry for another couple of weeks. Then, twist the ears or rub two together to release the hard, dried kernels into a bucket..."
"Seed cleaning and storage: Winnow any plant debris. Store seeds in a cool, dark place in paper bags."
"Seed treatment: Many commercial producers treat corn seed with synthetic fungicides, especially when they're sowing corn seed in cold soil. If you've had problems with corn seedling emergence in the past, be sure the soil is fully warm before planting."
"Germination: Optimum soil temperature for germination ranges from 60 to 95 degrees F (16 to 35 C). The minimum soil temperature for sowing corn is 50 degrees F. Do not sow too early or the seed will rot in the ground."
A bonus fact or two:
"In Corn, the normal sugary (su), sugary enhanced (se), and supersweet (sh2) types are all recessive. In kernel color, black or blue is dominant, and all colors are dominant over white."
Alright, so maybe you aren't as into corn as I am. Chances are you love one or more of the 321 other entries in The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds. So I suppose I'll end this post with a question or two. Do you look forward to saving the seeds of your garden this fall? If so, which vegetable, herb, flower, fruit, tree or shrub's seeds do you look forward to saving the most? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
-Douglas Riggs, Storey Publishing International Sales and Rights Assistant