Growing From Seed

Every year billions of seeds are planted – mostly for annual crops. Seeds are also planted for perennial crops but it seems that when it comes to most fruit, growing from seed is discouraged. Why is this?

The majority of popular tree crops are budded or grafted. The lower portion, the roots were produced from seed but at a young age the upper portion was replaced through grafting or budding with a specific variety selected by the grower. This gives a great degree of consistency and when you buy a Knight avocado or Hamlin orange it is the same as every other Knight or Hamlin – all originating from the first Knight or Hamlin that was produced by planting a seed.

Most plants produce seeds by sexual means – pollen (consider pollen the male element) is transferred to the female element of a flower (pistil) and the resulting seed contains genetic material from both parents. The seed is unique as to the DNA it contains. When planted many trees and plants go through a juvenile stage where growth and not flowering is prime. This juvenile stage may take over a decade depending on the species and conditions it is grown under. When the plant finally flowers and produces fruit the yield may be smaller (at times inferior in taste) for the first years. The final fruit may range anything from better than the parent to nearly inedible due to off flavor or other attributes. It seems that some species are noted for rarely producing better individuals from seed while others are more accommodating to growers.

Does the above make you want to plant a seed? Chances are no. BUT…

Growing from seed can be very rewarding as the finished plant is unique in several ways from the parents. Growers may practice careful selection of parents or parents fruit characteristics, control pollination and other factors in their quest to get the plant to produce a seed that is superior to the parent in any number of specific areas. Sometimes just planting a seed from a fruit you got at the market or grove produces a wonderful surprise, sometimes a valuable surprise.

There are there are hundreds of thousands of cultivars of various food plants but the only way to get a NEW one is by planting a seed and waiting to see what it produces. If what it produces is improved enough you then name it as a new variety.
What if it is not? Not superior in the way you planned? It may have another superior attribute that needs to be found. It was an experiment – and even if the results were not what you ‘wanted’ something was learned. You can, the majority of times graft a high quality fruit onto the existing roots of the plant.

(Now here is a secret, this seed stuff is all genetics. Genetics looks confusing to many but is based on some simple principals and while there is need for thinking out a genetic experiment there is little heavy mental lifting involved once you have the general rules in your head).

One thing about rarefruiters is that they are always pushing the boundary, always looking for something new. Why not try planting some seeds and see if you can produce a new variety? You might name it after your spouse, child or someone you admire.

If you want to know more about growing from seeds and attempting to produce seeds that will be different in ways you desire I highly recommend the book by Carol Deppe. Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving – while directed mostly to annuals it provides an outstanding explanation of the process and provides more well presented, understandable information than many college courses might. This should link to the current edition:

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