Saving seeds offers many benefits


The 10th annual West Hawaii Fall Seed Exchange is scheduled from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. The exchange is an excellent opportunity for farmers and gardeners to get together, network with one another, share growing information and trade seeds, huli and cuttings.

Everyone is encouraged to bring propagation material from food, medicine, flowering or native plants that have done well in their home gardens. Bring material including the plant’s name, date it was collected and location, including elevation. Even if you don’t have plant material to share, the exchange is an excellent place to get started with locally tested plants.

Though some plants that are native to temperate climates do not go to seed here in the tropics, many of our favorites do flower, fruit and produce seeds. Saving seeds from the plants you grow is a wonderful way to start gardening sustainably. Saving your own seeds means you can sustain your farm or garden without spending money on seeds every year, but you will also find other benefits, such as networking with other growers at seed exchanges.

Locally grown seeds will often produce plants that are better adapted to our climatic conditions. By continuing to plant seeds from plants on your site, you will find the following generations will likely be healthier and grow better. Of course, when selecting seeds you will want to choose from plants that show special vigor and health in your location. Those that produce the tastiest, largest and most disease-free flowers and fruit are the best candidates for seed collection.

Lettuce plants as well as many herbs and edible greens flower toward the end of their productive life. Allow some of your edible greens and herbs to remain in the ground, mature and flower so you can save the seeds they produce. Once you see flowers forming, it’s best to check the plants frequently so you can collect the seeds once they are produced and dried. Gathering seeds once they have dried on the plant will greatly improve their germination rate.

Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lilikoi and papayas produce seeds that are easily removed, can be dried and will often have a high germination rate.

Growing plants from seeds you have carefully selected will not only produce healthier more robust plants, but also can produce healthier fruit. When seeds are grown in optimal conditions, the improved health of the resulting plants often adds to the nutritional value of their fruit.

Not all plants grow “true” from seed. Many plants are better reproduced from cuttings, root shoots or huli. Many ornamentals, some woody herbs, ulu, bananas and taro are best propagated vegetatively. Some plants reproduce best from air layers or more complicated micro-propagation techniques. For example, citrus or avocado seeds are often from fruit that has been hybridized or crossed with other varieties. Planting seeds from your favorite lemon or avocado may not produce a plant with the same fruit. Propagation tips are best gathered from experienced gardeners and seed collectors who will be in abundance at the upcoming event.

In addition to the seed exchange, Greenwell Garden’s annual Arbor Day celebration will include a three-day tree giveaway of 500 native Hawaiian trees as well as expert advice, tours and woodworking demonstrations.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday folks may choose a tree to take home and plant. Popular natives such as koa, kou, hau, kukui and mountain apple will be offered. All of the trees have been grown locally.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., woodworkers will demonstrate their craft making poi boards and other objects. At 1 p.m. each day, garden tours will be conducted and each participant will be offered a free tree at the end of the tour. For more information about Arbor Day activities, call Greenwell Garden at 323-3318.

For information on school garden events connected with the exchange, contact Nancy Redfeather from the Hawaii Public Seed Initiative at nredfeather@kohalacenter.org or 322-2801.

Tropical gardening helpline

Shay asks: Something is eating about 90 percent of my sandalwood seeds as they ripen. Any idea what might be eating them and how I might prevent this destruction?

Answer: The only reported incidents of sandalwood seed consumption at the rate you describe is done by birds. In a section of the booklet Vanuatu Sandalwood put out by the Australian government — aciar.gov.au/files/node/14881/mn151_vanuatu_sandalwood_growers_guide_for_san_46020.pdf — called “Seed predation by birds,” they describe the sweet flesh of the sandalwood fruit as a prized food for many types of birds. This publication claims bird consumption of the fruit is the main reason for insufficient seed collection. The publication advises planting sandalwood trees close to areas that are regularly visited by growers who can discourage birds from feeding on the seeds.

It also suggests that netting the canopy or branches can protect the seeds from predatory birds. Hanging shiny objects on the branches once seeds ripen and until they are harvested can also scare birds away. Scarecrows can also be effective. These objects should only be used for short periods of time so birds do not get accustomed to them and cease to be frightened by them.

In “Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands,” edited by Craig Elevitch, rats are mentioned as possible consumers of sandalwood seeds. Setting rat traps near the trees would identify them as part of the problem and trapping them would end their seed eating.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is an organic farmer, plant adviser and consultant.