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I get a lot of questions every year about saving vegetable seeds. I think most people know that if you save seeds from hybrid plants you will have a lot of genetic diversity in the offspring. Some of the plants may have characteristics you like, but you will not know that until you grow it. However, saving seeds from open pollinated plants will come back true like the parent, as long as it is not crossed with another.
What I mean is if you only plant one kind of open pollinated watermelon, then the seeds should come back true the following planting. However, if you plant more than one open pollinated watermelon in the same area that bloom at the same time, then the chance of crossing is great, and you might not want to save the seeds. You can save the seeds to grow another watermelon, but the offspring may not be exactly like the parent. It may have characteristics of both parents, and the offspring could be better than the parents or it could be worse. For example, you could have one tomato with great fruit but with terrible disease problems that you cross with a tomato with bad fruit but very disease resistant. Crossing a plant is as simple as moving pollen from the bloom of one plant to the pistil of another. Your cross will produce a fruit, you will harvest the fruit, then save the seeds and plant them. You are expecting to produce a tomato that has good disease resistance and produces good fruit. However, the new plant could produce terrible fruit and have major disease problems. Plant breeders will make many crosses, produce many offspring, grow many plants, evaluate the plants, and destroy the inferior plants. They will cross the plants that have the characteristics they like and repeat the process many times. It will take 6 or 8 generations for a tomato breeder to develop a pure line. A pure line, if not crossed with another tomato, will come back true.
A hybrid is made by crossing two or more pure lines. Hybrid plants can add beneficial characteristics such as hybrid vigor and disease resistance to the plant. This process takes a lot of time, but can be fun. If you are not interested in having this kind of fun, I would recommend purchasing seeds from a reliable source. Many seed sources are available and a grower will be able to find open pollinated or hybrid seeds of tomatoes, watermelon, sweet corn, etc. If you have any questions about saving seeds, give us a call at your local Extension Office.
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