Edible Plant Families | How to Save Seeds from Each Family

Cabbage & Mustard Melon & Gourd Bean & Pea Tomato & Pepper
Celery & Carrot Onion, & Chives Amaranth, Beet & Spinach Grains & Grasses

What Should I Cultivate?

When first starting out with seed saving, it is often helpful to understand the relationships between plants within families for both garden planning and seed collection. The same techniques used to collect seeds of a specific plant will often be used for related members within a family. Additionally, some families require very little processing and make better choices for seed saving, while others are best attempted after some experience with collecting.

Families Commonly Cultivated for Food

Cabbage & Mustard Family
This is a large family that encompasses many vegetables cultivated for leafy greens, and also includes some root vegetables.

With over 300 genera, and hundreds of members that have been cultivated for human consumption, Brassicacea presents unique challenges that the seed saver must plan for. Principally, cross pollination can easily occur between nearly all members of this family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, turnips and many.

Timing and proximity are the seed saver's most effective techniques to help control unwanted out-crossing. To minimize cross-pollination due to insect pollinators, plan your plantings to offset the timing of flowers blooming. Plants that bloom simultaneously can be visited by the same insect who can then visit other plants and generate cross-pollination between different species. This can be discouraged by using thin polyester netting or cages, that can allow in adequate sunlight, but will not permit pollinators. It is best rotate such filters to allow periodic unrestricted sunlight and access by insect pollinators. If using distance or proximity to discourage cross-pollination, it is suggested to allow at least ½ mile between different species to preserve species integrity.

Includes: Arugula, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Bok Choy, Chinese Mustard, Collards, Cress, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Radish , Rutabega, Turnip

Herbs: Maca

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Melon & Gourd Family
This family is primarily composed of flowering vines that produce large fleshy fruit that are among the earliest cultivated crops.

Cucurbitaceae is composed of about 125 and 960 species, most of which are annual vines that produce large yellow or white flowers. Species of this family will not cross, though varieties within species will interbreed, so it is advisable to plan accordingly if planting two or more cultivars.

Includes: Cantaloupe, Cucumber, Melons, Squash, Watermelon

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Bean & Pea Family
Second only to grains for their significance to humans as a food sources, beans and peas have been cultivated across the globe for millennia.

Leguminosae, or Fabaceae, contains over 15000 species in approximately 600 genera. Of these, roughly 25% are consumed as cultivars by humans, with beans and peas being the most common. Seeds from this family are especially easy to collect, thanks to their large size and the presence of a seed pod, a simple dry fruit that opens along a seam on two sides. Additionally, these plants are generally self-pollinators and will only occasionally cross-pollinate in the presence off bees. Nevertheless it is still wise to give separate varieties some space. Typically, 100 feet should be adequate to minimize the possibility of cross-pollination between bean and pea varieties.

Includes: Bean Varieties, Peas, Clover

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Tomato & Pepper Family
Solanaceae, the Nightshade Family, truly embodies nature's bounty, replete with members that have long been used for food, medicine, seasoning and poison.

Solanacaea contains around 2000 species within nearly 100 genera of plants native to the Americas. Significant food crops include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants. Members of this family are typically self-pollinators, though care must be taken to prevent cross-pollination by insects between different cultivars within a species if seed saving, especially tomatoes.

Includes: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant

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Celery, Carrot & Parsnip Family
This is a large family with over 3000 species in approximately 300 genera, and includes many of the common root vegetables, aromatic herbs, and other seeds collected for culinary use.

This is a large family,. Rich with plants that have been utilized by humans for food and medicine, Umbelliferae is so named for the shape of the flower head which can resemble an upside-down umbrella.

Commonly cultivated vegetable members include parsnips and parsley, which are cultivated for the large tap root common to this family. Many members also produce good volumes of essential oils, and aromatic herbs parsley, cilantro and dill are included in this group. Other members are prized for their flavorful seeds (coriander, fennel, cumin, caraway), and others for abundant leafstalk (celery).

When collecting seed from members of this family, there are several guidelines to consider. First, the most viable and highest quality seeds are always produced on the primary umbel, which is the first stalk to form and is more central. Additional branches will form lower down the seed stalk, but the seeds produced by these umbels will be of lower quality.

Secondly, the small airborne seeds of this family are sensitive to heat and can be damaged if left exposed to excessive sunlight. As the secondary and subsequent umbels develop and the seeds mature, it is wise to consider a collection of the higher grade seeds found on the primary and secondary umbels. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat (exceeding 100˚ F) can damage your seeds and compromise viability. The reward of additional seeds form the tertiary umbels may not be worth potential damage to your primary seeds.

Includes: Celery, Carrot, Lovage, Parsnip

Herbs: Dill, Chervil, Coriander (Cilantro), Fennel

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Onion, Leeks & Chives Family
The Onion family provides flavorful and pungent bulbs and stems for many cuisines across the globe.

Alliaceae, or the Alluim family, is composed of over 400 species of plants for human consumption. Most of its members are perennials plants that produce bulbs, many of which are regarded as flavorful vegetables in cuisines around the world and can be easily distinguished by the characteristic onion or garlic scent.

When selecting seed parents, always be sure to select those plants with even, well-developed, hardy foliage. Do not select plants that bolt to seed or flower in the first season.

Includes: Onions, Chives, Leeks

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Amaranth, Beet, Quinoa, Spinach & Swiss Chard Family
This rather large an disparate family (Amaranthaceae) includes many vegetables which originated tropical or subtropical regions and have become popular in recent centuries or decades.

The families Amaranthaceae and Chenopodiaceae are commonly grouped together into a single family Amaranthaceae in modern classification. Members of this groups are primarily herbaceaous or shrubby and most of the 2400 species are native to tropical or subtropical regions. As members of Amaranthaceae and Chenopodiaceae exhibit wide variability in the nature of size, growth, seeds and other characteristics, it is not possible to make general recommendations on this group for the prospective seed saver.

Includes: Amaranth, Beet, Quinoa, Spinach, Swiss Chard

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Grains & Grasses Family
It is not a stretch to cite the Grass Family (Poaceae) as the major catalyst for the growth of cities and cultures across the world. A burgeoning knowledge of grains and their growth allowed humans countless millenia back to cultivate a stable supply of food from year to year, and transition to a more agrarian-based way of living.

It contains over 9000 species and is often considered the most significant family for humans. It includes all the major cereal grains that form the staple of human diets around the world, and also includes popular ornamental grasses and economically important plants such as bamboo and sugar cane.

Perhaps the single greatest concern to the Grass Family seed saver is the risk of inbreeding depression, where successive generations may show higher rates of undesirable characteristics due to a lack of genetic diversity. For this reason, it is advisable to plant as many plants as possible if seed saving, typically 200 or more. With some members of this family, such as corn, unique isolation technique can be utilized to ensure varietal integrity.

Includes: Barley, Corn, Millet, Oats, Rice, Rye, Wheat

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