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The Wonderful World of Seed Saving with Robert and Cheryl Moore-Gough – Episode 065

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There is an aspect of survival that involves more than wrestling grizzly bears, eating pine cones and dirt, or living like Rambo in the wild, untamed areas of the country. And while the knowledge and science has been available for centuries that enable us to live a self-reliant lifestyle, the passion for doing so has declined dramatically within our modern society. Because we have been raised on convenience, the several successions of generations with a “TV-dinner” mentality have lost the ability to know where their food comes from or even how to produce it themselves.


Off The Grid Radio
Ep 065
Released: September 9, 2011

Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, as the announcer says, welcome to Off the Grid News – the radio version of Today, I’m Brian Brawdy – Bill Heid will not be able to join us. He had a last minute commitment pop up. But we are very excited to have – you know what guys? I said before I introduced you I said I did a little bit of research on you and then leading up to this morning, the authors that we have with us today – their book that we’re going to discuss – only one left at If that gives you an idea as to what a great book it is and how popular these two authors are – only one left on We have the good luck and the great honor today to have the full hour with the authors of a really cool book, “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees and Shrubs” and we’re going to talk about as much as we can in our hour. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. Good morning, guys, how are we doing?

Robert: Good morning, how are you?

Cheryl: Good morning.

Brian: I’m doing great. Thank you so much. Probably about six months ago when this all first started, I did a canning class, I did a seed class, I did a bunch of other things. Friends that know me as a survival expert and have seen me do my shtick all over the country have said “really? Now you’re into canning, you’re into seeds, you’re into all these other things …?” It really has been an eye opener for me which is why I was so excited, Robert and Cheryl, to get a chance to speak with you this morning. There’s a whole other aspect of survival that I think a lot of guys – Les Stroud and Bear Grylls and all the other ones – there’s a whole ‘nother aspect of survival that has nothing to do with wrestling anacondas or beating off a grizzly bear attack, isn’t there?


Robert: Yes, there is. We’re old enough to have been there the first time around, back in the ‘70s.

Brian: Talk to me a little bit about what’s happened then, Robert, from the ‘70s up until now, or is the expertise pretty much the same? Maybe the passion has increased but the knowledge that’s in your book – “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” – has that remained pretty consistent?

Robert: Yeah. I would say that has been consistent. The knowledge has been there. The knowledge has been there for centuries. The science has been there for centuries, literally. But the passion has gone up and down over the years. I think, in general, as a society becomes more relaxed, more laid back, has a lot more spare time on its hand, it tends not to worry about things like eating. [laughs] You know, “we’ll just go down to the supermarket …” But when things get a little more dicey out there in the world – we’re worried about food supplies and quality of food supplies – then people begin to think a little bit more about what does this mean to them? Maybe they should take responsibility for their own food supplies and ensure a quality of health. That’s where the passion picks up and it becomes much more popular again.

Cheryl: We went through an era where it was all about convenience – convenience, convenience. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in that generation who were raised with this convenience and the TV dinner mentality. They have lost the ability to know where their food comes from.

Brian: Cheryl, you raise a valid point. We’ve interviewed people – obviously not on our show because our listeners are a highly educated group – but I’ve interviewed people before for television that think milk comes from the corner store, that hamburger patties come from McDonald’s. I think you’re right. We’ve raised an entire generation that’s never had dirt under its nails. Never written its name in the snow, if you will, Robert – you know what I’m talking about. There’s a great book called “The Last Child in the Woods” – how we’ve become so disconnected from the earth and from agriculture and horticulture that there’s an entire class of people that have no clue where our food comes from. I saw a report yesterday that said for the first time in the history, more corn went to the production of ethanol than to actually feed beef and humans.

Robert: Right. You’re absolutely right. We have lost that connection. Good Americans are like good humans, I guess, we see it coming. We see that loss coming and yet too many of us sit around and say “oh gosh, I guess we’ve lost it” and don’t go out and take charge and then say “let’s get that back. That’s an important value. We need to know how to do that stuff.” So every 20 or 30 years or so you have this revival of interest and “yeah, let’s get that back. Let’s be self-sufficient. Let’s not depend on other people to take care of us.” I think that’s where we are now in this most recent upswing in people wanting to know about how to take care of themselves and save their own seeds for food supply.

Brian: Not just that but you’ve got some great ideas in the book. We talked, as we said, vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs. There’s a whole wealth of information in “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” Cheryl, if you had one thing that you could communicate – say someone just bumps into you on the street and says “Cheryl, what do you do?” And you go “I’m an author of this really cool book” and you had to distill everything down into one sound bite, what would you say to that person about why saving seeds are so important?

Cheryl: One sound bite. How long is a sound bite? [laughs]

Brian: As long as you like it, my friend.

Cheryl: There’s a number of reasons why you want to know how to save seeds. First of all, our world food supply is really getting dicey. If you save seeds from plants that you grow in your own yard, over time those plants become more and more adapted to your personal conditions that are in your yard. You’re actually selecting plants that do best for you where you live. Also, you’re going to be saving money. It’s a fun thing to do. It’s a fun activity to get your kids involved with because it’s not difficult for most of the seed collecting and saving. Also, you can be maintaining the genetic diversity of the planet by saving seeds.

Brian: That’s actually a pretty cool idea that I didn’t think about, that depending upon the region of the country that you live in, that makes sense. There’s got to be different ways – certainly tied to the calendar – different times of the year and based on soil composition different ways to go about saving seeds.

Cheryl: Oh yes. When you have plants in your yard, you can select for the tastiest edible portion, the color of a flower, the fragrance of a flower, disease resistance – in your yard. You can also be sure that you don’t save seeds from plants that behave badly – for instance, lettuce and spinach that bolts early. In short-season locations, you don’t want to save those seeds from plants that bolt early. You want the last ones to bolt.

Brian: Interesting. Give me the term – again, if you could walk me through it because I’m learning more and more every day – the term bolt? Does that mean take off or done early?

Cheryl: Excuse me?

Brian: The term bolt – what does bolt mean?

Cheryl: OK. When lettuce or spinach stops producing lots of leaves and it starts producing a seed stock or a flower stock, that’s called bolting. When plants bolt – when leafy greens bolt – they start getting very bitter, so you can’t eat them anymore. So you want to save seeds from those types of plants that bolt later in the season so you get more edible harvest.

Brian: That makes sense. That makes sense. Robert, how about you? If you had that thing – we’ve got about three minutes to a quick commercial break – if you had to distill down the importance – and suppose it’s someone that’s never thought of saving seeds before – what would you say to them?

Robert: I would say “saving seeds is saving humanity” because – how big a sound bite do you want? [laughs] Because without seeds, nothing grows. I don’t care if you’re a beef expert and you want to grow beef or lamb or what have you – any sort of meat – they have to eat vegetation. Without a seed source, you have no vegetation. So everything dies without plants. Unless you help to save seeds, everything will revert back to a natural world and we’ll get on to a different cycle than what we’re on now – perhaps not be able to support our population as we’re accustomed to. I would say saving seeds – taking an interest in saving seeds – is helping to save humanity.

Brian: That’s very interesting because you think about the interconnectedness of all things but you’re absolutely right, if you don’t have seeds to grow the food that cows and lambs and chicken and the like – the things that they eat – then at the very beginning of the food chain … it’s almost like, Robert, being in the ocean where everyone goes “what do you got to do to save the whales? Make sure you don’t kill off the plankton.”

Robert: Sure. Right. And everything goes back down to that fundamental basis of plants – plant life. You’ve been through school and we probably only have a few seconds left here but unless you have a good, healthy functioning plant world, you not only have no seeds, you have no crops, you have no animals, you have no oxygen. You have nothing. So helping to save seeds in our own small part, helps to save humanity.

Brian: That’s perfect. Robert and Cheryl, we’re going to run to a quick commercial break. When we come back I want to talk about growing plants for seeds. I want to talk about harvesting and cleaning seeds. I want to talk a little bit about seed storage know-how and most certainly about germination as well. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the great pleasure today to be with the authors of a book that I’m enjoying. I should tell you, there’s only one left. If you go to right now, hopefully that one will still be left. We’ll hook you up with another website a little later in the show so that you can get your copy. We’re talking with the authors of “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” – a good bit more important a topic than you’re probably hearing from in the mainstream media. We’re going to go ahead and run to this quick commercial break. Come on back to Off the Grid News and Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough – right after this quick break.

[0:11:16 – 0:15:27 break]

Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to Off the Grid News – the radio version of I’m Brian Brawdy – today sitting in for Mr. Bill Heid. Talk about a different paradigm. We have with us today the authors, Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough, of “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” Guys, right before we went to the commercial break we were talking about the interconnectedness of all things. That’s why I think it’s important to focus a little bit now, when it comes to the importance of seeds. I’m taking this from your book but most certainly a name that’s very popular with people that listen to our show – I’m going to quote quickly, George Washington. It says “bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.” Seeds really are that important to the overall makeup – not just of humanity, Cheryl – but of our planet as a whole.

Cheryl: That’s right.

Brian: So how important is it – if someone picks up your book and they’re going to be going through and they look at the table of contents and say “I just throw some seeds in the ground, I cover them with some dirt, I make sure they get watered …” – why the need for the book? A little more to it than just digging a hole in the ground and throwing some seeds in and giving it water, isn’t it?

Cheryl: It sure is. You need to know a lot more than the pretty picture on the cover. You need to know something about the life cycle of the plant. You need to know whether the plant is an annual, which will produce the flowers and seeds in one season; if it’s a biennial in which it produces a plant the first season and seeds the second season. For those biennials you need to know if your temperatures are such that they will actually overwinter successfully or if you have to dig up those plants and store them in a root cellar. There’s an awful lot of things that you need to know about the plants themselves. Also, when you’re planting your garden out, if you expect to save seeds you need to be sure that you give the plants enough space because a plant that goes to seed is going to require more space than plants that you’re just growing for the edible portion or the flower.

Brian: Interesting. So then when you talk about – in one of the opening chapters – when you talk about super spacing for seed production, it’s going to be different if you’re going to harvest the plant because you want to eat its leaves or if you’re planning on using that to be able to reproduce and replant year after year seeds – totally different spacing with those two mindsets.

Robert: Yeah. In general that’s correct. For example, a spinach plant may only require – if you’re harvesting it for leaves, as most of us do – it may only require three or four or five inches of space. But if you let that plant bolt and go ahead and produce a seed stock, that plant which normally would have been maybe six inches tall now becomes 18 inches tall or 20 inches tall and may spread out to 10 inches or a foot. In order to get the best seeds, you need to provide that little bit of extra room for the plant. So they do get a little bit bigger so you have to plan ahead if you’re going to save seeds.

Cheryl: You also – another real, real important aspect of saving seeds – need to know the difference between what are called monoecious versus dioecious plants. Monoecious plants have both male and female flowers on them. Dioecious plants have a separate male and female plant. If you have just female plants, like spinach and asparagus are just male or just female, and you cull out all of your males, you’re not going to be having any seeds at all.

Brian: So there’s a little bit to the concept – and I love the term that you gave it in Chapter 5 – nature’s exquisite logic. Although you’re talking right there about dormancy and the like, but there really is that kind of dance, even in individual plants – between the male and the female.

Robert: Right. Absolutely.

Cheryl: Right. For instance, squash – squash is monoecious so you’re going to have both male and female flowers on there so you need to actually get in there close and personal and find out which is which.

Brian: [laughing] Alright, Cheryl, you piqued my interest. You need to get in there and find out which is which. So how does a normal guy like me – or are you going to go over that in your book “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” – you say you need to get in there and mix it up, figure out which is which. How are you going to do that?

Robert: You need to figure out the sex of the flowers. In general, female flowers are pink and male flowers are blue …

Cheryl: Oh, Bob … [laughs]

Brian: [laughing] Alright, Cheryl, what’s wrong with that? I’m in with that? Blue for boys, pink for girls. I’m good with that.

Robert: [laughing] You need to get in there and look at the sexual parts of the flower. First of all, we spell it out for you and if it’s a squash or a cucumber of what have you, you know you’re going to have some flowers that are male and some that are female. But in the event that you don’t know, that we don’t spell it out, we don’t say “this plant has imperfect flowers” then you have to look at the individual flower structure during bloom. We give you a number of diagrams and photographs as to what the male parts look like and what the female parts look like so you can go about telling what you have – whether it’s a male plant or female plant, or male flower or female flower, and so forth. For example, let’s take holly trees. I don’t know why that popped up but I guess it’s as good example as any. Hollies come in male and female plants.

Brian: Now you see, Bob? I thought you were going to tell me because the tree was named holly that meant they were all females.


Robert: Oh gosh. I won’t tell Buddy you said that next time I see him.

Brian: Come on, Cheryl. I get at least that little bit for the pink and blue line.

Cheryl: No, actually, it’s the roots. It’s the roots … pink and blue roots.

Brian: Oh, Holly …

Robert: … but people say “I want a holly tree. I only want the berries.” That’s why we grow holly. Well, that means you want a female tree. “Right. Right, I don’t want any male trees.” Well if you don’t have a male tree, you’re not going to have any berries. If you don’t have boys, you don’t have babies …

Cheryl: Or girls.

Robert: Or girls, you don’t have babies. So you have to have both. You have to know what the sexual parts of the flowers look like.

Brian: Now guys, I’m sure that you’re sitting in a studio somewhere where you can both see each other. You must be rolling your eyes because I would even ask a question like that. I think there’s a ton of us regular folks that would have no clue of that.

Cheryl: Oh, sure. That’s why everybody needs to buy our book.

Brian: You talk to some people about the way bees pollinate – if you don’t have bees then in terms of the pollination of the flowers – there are all kinds of folks that don’t even know that’s the way it goes down. Again, our listeners are a lot smarter than I am. And they’re into this kind of thing so as I’m just learning it, it blows me away to know that you have to be that specific, but it makes perfect sense.

Cheryl: But you know what, Brian? There are also flowers that are self-pollinated and they don’t need bees at all.

Robert: They’re pretty independent.

Brian: Alright. Now that sounds like me. That’s my level of green thumb. What would be an example of a plant that doesn’t need any outside – by outside help I mean you’re still going to need sun and rain and soil, that kind of thing – what would be an example of a plant?

Robert: That doesn’t need a bee for pollination?

Brian: Yes, sir.

Robert: Some of them we call self-pollinated plants – things like tomato, peas, beans – do not need bees. They do everything by themselves, thank you very much.

Brian: Let me ask you a question, Robert. Within that, do they need – again, please forgive me – do bean plants need male and female plants in order to be bean plants?

Robert: No. There are no male and female bean plants. Beans are what we call monoecious in that they have both sexes on one plant. The sexes may be in the same flower or they may be in different flowers, but they’re on the same plant. For example, apple – apple has what we call a perfect flower – both male and female parts are in one flower on the apple.

Brian: Wow!

Robert: Yeah! On the other hand, you may have corn. Corn is monoecious in that both sexes are on the same plant but they’re in different flowers. The female corn flower is the silk, the male corn flower is the tassel. They’re both on the same plant but the sexes are in separate flowers. Now you’re talking about plants that don’t need bees – corn is wind-pollinated. It does not need bees. Spinach is wind-pollinated – it does not need bees. So there’s a handful of plants – vegetable plants – that are wind-pollinated. The rest of them pretty much need a pollinator like bees or wasps or some other animal.

Cheryl: I’d like to add something to what Bob just said. I’ll bet there are a lot of listeners out there who are saying “but wait a minute. I see bees in my corn tassels all the time.” They are collecting the pollen. They are not pollinating. They love the pollen of the corn plant but they are not pollinating those corn plants.

Brian: Very Cool. Ladies and gentlemen, we have to run to a quick commercial break. I’m learning a ton, as I’ve said to our guests today, most of you all are smarter than I am. I hope you’re learning half as much as I am because this is all new to me. When we come back after this quick commercial break, “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” I’m really fired up to be learning from two experts – Robert and Cheryl Gough – are here with us for the full hour. Come on back after this commercial break to Off the Grid News.

[0:25:40 – 0:29:01 break]

Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to Off the Grid Radio. Brian Brawdy here with you today, sitting in for Mr. Bill Heid who is out on assignment. We’re very fortunate to have with us the authors of “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” According to, right now only one copy left, to give you an idea of how popular their book is. We’re here with Robert and Cheryl Gough. Robert, you were saying to me in the commercial break – and it struck a chord with me because my grandfather, by the time I was in kindergarten, had me reading in Latin and Greek. That’s what he taught me. My grandfather studied his entire life, never went to college – or I should say, went to college, World War I interrupted that pretty quickly for him, so was self-taught. But you were telling me something about what your grandfather taught you that I think our listeners would be really interested in.

Robert: This would be shortly after World War II, when I was a little kid. I got into gardening because of him at the age of 5, so I’ve had a garden every year since I was 5. We always saved seed. At the end of the season I looked at it as a time of “wow! The work is over with,” and we could sit down and eat tomatoes and what have you. Yet the work wasn’t over with, the work for next year was beginning in the fall, and that was in saving seeds. He taught me how to save the seeds. I got thinking about in later years, you know, “why don’t you just buy seeds?” He always said – one thing he said, because he was a cheapskate like me, or I like him – “why should I buy seeds when I can save seeds? Then I know what I have, I have them ahead of time. I have them the fall before spring planting rather than waiting until the last minute. And I can select for the particular plant type that I want. If I want a really flavorful yellow tomato, I can select for that in my own garden.” So it made a lot of sense to me. Here I have control – in a world where we rarely have control over a lot of things – that’s one thing I have control of, is my own food supply. And it was neat to see the generations past in the plants and where those plants originally came from. So that’s how I got into saving seeds and have been saving seeds ever since.

Brian: But you know what? Here’s something else I learned, Cheryl, of late – again, my apologies for people that are a lot smarter than I am – this whole thing about hybrid and non-hybrid seeds. That was shocking to me, that you can go to a store and buy certain seeds that will never reproduce a seed that you can use again next year.

Robert: Incorrect.

Cheryl: Yep.


Robert: That’s one of the myths we want to dispel but Cheryl will do that.

Cheryl: [laughs] I’ve always wanted to jump on that.

Brian: Good!

Cheryl: There may be some cases such that the hybrid seeds are usually crosses – they’re a first generation cross between two inbred lines. So we have two pure lines that are crossed. That F1 generation, which is what we buy as a hybrid – if you save seeds from that plant you will get what is called the F2 generation which will not necessarily come true to the previous plant. In other words, the genetics – and we won’t get into it – but they segregate out so that you’ll have a tomato, for instance, but it won’t necessarily be the same tomato. This is spelled out in our book as well. Now, for some plants, like tomatoes, it may matter to you. You may want exactly the same tomato year to year, and that’s where you need to have a non-hybrid or open-pollinated tomato. But we have been saving seeds from spinach, for instance – spinach is spinach to us and it doesn’t really matter if you’re saving from a hybrid.

Brian: OK, but where did you originally get those spinach seeds?

Cheryl: That depends. You can get them from someplace like – they have open-pollinated seeds that they encourage you to save seeds from. There are seeds that are on the market that they don’t say hybrid on the package. You have to look at the package, read the label, read to see if it either says F1 or hybrid. If that’s the case then if you save the seeds you won’t have an identical progeny the next year.

Brian: How about the following year? Is it almost like you get your hairline from your grandfather on your mother’s side? Does it ever return again or is that why so many people aren’t all that fired up about them because if you plant it year 2, does it take off in a continually different direction?

Cheryl: That depends on the plant. What we have for some plants is [laughs] – here’s another technical term for you guys – inbreeding depression. Corn, for instance, if you don’t save from enough plants – seeds from enough plants – if you save from just one plant, it starts to revert and you start getting a weenie plant, if you will.

Robert: To get back to your idea, I think where you’re going with this is how far removed do we get from the original as we go through succeeding generations? Is that what you’re asking?

Brian: Yes, sir.

Robert: OK. For example, let’s pick a hybrid seed – Burpee’s Big Girl Tomato, let’s just say. This year we go out and we purchase a packet of hybrid tomato seeds, plant those and we save the seeds from those. That next generation is called the F2 generation, second filial?? generation, but those seeds segregate out so if we planted all of those seeds from the second generation we would get tremendous different combinations of tomato. We might get big tomatoes that are yellowish, we might get little tomatoes that are reddish and so forth and so on. If we save the seeds from that and get into the third and fourth and fifth and sixth and so forth filial?? generation removed from that original hybrid, then we essentially get a palate of any possible tomato types known. They may revert back down to a cherry-type tomato, we may get some plants that produce huge tomatoes. In other words, the variability increases.

Brian: You’ve got to love nature, don’t you?

Robert: Right. We say “the heterozygosity increases, homozygosity decreases.” In other words, sameness decreases.

Brian: Well thankfully! In all of nature, thankfully, that’s a good thing.

Robert: That is a good thing. That’s right.

Brian: It might not be in seeds if you want a particular tomato if you want a particular vegetable, which is why I think so many people are fired up about having the ability to replicate with non-hybrid seeds, year after year after year the same product. But that’s the brilliance of Mother Nature. Again, it goes back to the term that you guys used and I liked, “nature’s exquisite logic.”

Robert: Yeah. It’s terrific.

Brian: Let’s talk about seed dormancy. Seed dormancy – there was another term that I learned when I read your book. What are we talking about when we talk about not only different types of seed dormancy but how to overcome it?

Robert: OK. Dormancy simply means a state of not growing. There’s several reasons why a seed or plant might not grow. It might be too cold, that’s one type of dormancy. It may be in a seed that a certain part of the embryo in the seed is not mature yet so we have to wait for that embryo to catch up before the seed will germinate – that’s another type of dormancy. There’s several different kinds of dormancy. How you overcome dormancy depends on what kind of dormancy you have. For example, one of the common dormancies is broken by a cold period. Many of our seeds, particularly seeds of perennials like shrubs and some herbaceous perennial flowers, the fruit are formed in the summer, essentially. The seeds are formed as the fruit matures and then those seeds – under natural conditions – those seeds drop to the ground and they spend all winter outside on the ground, exposed to the cold. It’s only after that exposure that they will germinate in the spring. That exposure to cold is called stratification, that type of dormancy that requires stratification to break. There’s other dormancies. Of course some seeds of wild plants have to go through the gut of a bird or a gut of a bear or another animal in order to germinate a little bit better. It’s in the process of going through the digestive system that some of that seed coat which may be very hard and impermeable to water and oxygen – some of that seed coat is worn down and scratched so that water and oxygen can then get into the seed and in the springtime everything can come up. That process is called scarification of the seed in order to break that dormancy. There’s several different kinds of dormancies and this is nature’s way of telling that seed “don’t germinate at the wrong time of year.” If you take an apple seed and the apple seed germinates in October, chances are the seedling is going to get killed by the winter. So nature puts into that seed the fact that it has to go through a cold period before it can even think about germinating.

Brian: Unbelievable! Robert and Cheryl, we’re going to have to run to a quick commercial break. But that’s exactly nature’s exquisite logic.

Robert: Exactly.

Brian: I keep going back to that term because I love it. You’re absolutely right – Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to go to a quick commercial break. Come on back for the final segment with the authors of “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” Only one copy left on Candidly, I haven’t refreshed my page, that might be gone already. But come on back with Robert and Cheryl Gough, right after this final commercial break.

[0:39:35 – 0:43:50 break]

Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, as the announcer says, welcome back to Off the Grid News – the radio version of I’m Brian Brawdy, here today sitting in for Mr. Bill Heid. Today we’re not only preparing you to get ready for the worst, we’re preparing you to get ready for the best – and that best is what Mother Nature has to offer. Cheryl, you were saying in the break that Robert and I got a little sidetracked, but I want to come back to the concept of dormancy and also this concept – because to give you an idea, Cheryl, how I equated it in my mind – when we talk about forest fires, and as Robert corrected me in the break, it’s not just Redwoods but that certain pine cones need forest fires to be able to jump start their germination process or at least to make the seeds viable enough to be able to work their magic in the soil. I’d like you to bring us back on what Robert and I forgot and then tie in, once again, nature’s exquisite logic.

Cheryl: Right. What we were talking about before the break, Brian, was that Mother Nature has built in certain mechanisms into various seeds so that they don’t germinate when they’re going to die. Some seeds just need water, some seeds need forest fires – like you said – serotenous cones and there are several different species of conifers that require a forest fire in order to open up. Some need to go through the gut of an animal, like Bob was saying, so that’s acid. Some have to overwinter, so that’s cold. It’s our job as seed collectors to know what nature intended and to mimic it. If we needed to cold stratify some particular seeds, we’d put them probably in some soil in a cool room or in the refrigerator or something like that, to give them that cool treatment. For some of them that need acid, you probably need to get some hydrochloric acid – sulfuric acid, sorry. So you need to know what treatment. These treatments are most often for woodies, for shrubs – not for vegetables. Vegetables are pretty easy to get to germinate. Some of them need light and some of them can’t have light – that’s pretty much it. Do you have something to add?

Robert: No, that’s about it. In general, rules of thumb – some of this can get pretty confusing because there’s so many little specialty items to know about each species – but in general, rule of thumb is, the smaller the seed the more apt it is to need light for germination.

Brian: Say that again, Robert. The smaller the seed …

Robert: The smaller the seed, within the species … in other words, there’s a different in size between lettuce seeds, onion seeds and bean seeds. In general, the larger seeds do not need light for germination, but the smaller seeds – like the lettuce and some of those smaller endive seeds – will need light for germination. There’s a lot of little picky little things there is to learn about this.

Brian: Cheryl, let me ask you this real quick. I think you said sulfuric acid – if you want to model the digestive tract of a grizzly bear that’s eating berries – sulfuric acid does that?

Cheryl: Yes, it does.

Brian: Unbelievable.

Robert: If I can jump in there and I promise I won’t be too long-winded here. That treatment is used for seeds that have very, very hard seed coat. Typically they go through the gut of an animal, like a grizzly bear or whatever, in order to be scarified as I mentioned before, to have the seed coat broken down. Commercially, and most people can’t wait – they don’t want to wait that long for it to go through the gut of a grizzly bear and also they may have trouble finding a grizzly bear …

Brian: And, Robert, if I could tell you all the times I’ve spent hiking across Denali in Alaska – you’d be blown away by bear scat and what grows around it.

Robert: Oh, yeah! Nice little packet of fertilizer there. But anyway, to mimic that scarification process in the gut, commercial growers that want to germinate those types of hard-seed coated seeds will use sulfuric acid – dips in sulfuric acid for various lengths of time.

Brian: That’s amazing to me. So how do you all learn that? I know, I’m looking again at some of the other titles of the book. We didn’t even get a chance to get to Part 2, “The Handbook: from Vegetables to Nuts.” I just want to tell the listeners, saving vegetable seeds, saving herb seeds, saving flower seeds – advanced seed saving – nuts, fruits and woody ornamentals – all of this is covered in “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds,” authored by Robert and Cheryl Gough. Unfortunately, we’re only going to have a few minutes left. What I’d like to do, Robert and Cheryl, is the same thing I did back in our first segment. Cheryl, now I ask you for a sound bite – if there was a second thing you wanted folks to know, and brag about the book, brag about your knowledge. I’ve learned so much in the last 45 minutes, coming up on an hour now, that I love the idea of being able to call you guys and go “what do you think about this? Cheryl, what do you think about that?” But for folks that don’t have that ability, and your cell phone number by the way … [laughter] give us an idea, Cheryl – ladies first – of what you would like them to know, a second thought you would like them to know.

Cheryl: OK. I think that one of the really important things that we didn’t touch on here is after you’ve gone to all the work of saving your seeds, how do you store them? The storage requires – for most of these seeds it needs dry and cool and what you need to do is store the seeds in coin envelopes or put scotch tape around the corners around regular envelopes because seeds have a tendency to slip out of those. All of the different ways to store your seeds properly are also in this fabulous book – everybody needs a copy.

Brian: I would agree, Cheryl. I’m loving it. Then again, as I said, we didn’t get a chance to go over some of the other, but in the appendix when you talk about the history of seed saving and selling in North America, there’s all kinds of resources – a great glossary, even plant breeding basics – breeding hybrids, in the two-part book. You guys covered it all. Robert, how about you? What would be something else you’d want people to know if they didn’t have a chance yet, or they’ve ordered “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” and they’re waiting for UPS or FedEx to deliver it – what would you want them to know before the book gets there?

Robert: I would want them to know that the book is the place that they should begin, not the place that they should end. A book only ends with one person’s knowledge and there’s so much more to learn. So many other concepts to look at on saving seeds that they should use the book to get going and then use their heads and extend that knowledge and expand their knowledge – maybe come out with another edition of the book in 25 years.


Brian: I love the idea, Robert. I can hear Cheryl laughing at you in the background.

Robert: I would also want them to know that their future is in their hands. It’s not in anyone else’s hands and if you want to be assured of a good, sound food supply, go ahead and save your own seeds, don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Brian: Robert, I think that’s great advice in anything. My birth, if you will, in this industry was as a television reporter for CBS in Chicago. I was sent to cover the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area. The mark that was left indelibly on my mind was that if you’re waiting for someone to ride in on a white horse and save you – this isn’t a slam against the National Guard, the paramedics, the police, the fire department, FEMA – it isn’t a slam against anybody. It’s just that there were too many of us there needing help. If you’re waiting for someone to ride in and give you a basketful of vegetables, you’re betting on the wrong horse. To that end, Robert, if you’re waiting on someone to respond, to do CPR, to help in the case of a heart attack; if you’re waiting for police to respond or a fire department to respond in order to help you in a myriad of ways, in an emergency situation you’ve got to believe you’re going to be on your own. I love your advice of saying “get the book but use that as the cornerstone. Use that as the first step and start preparing to do some of the stuff for yourself,” because in an emergency situation, as much as we’d like to believe folks are coming to help us, it’s been my professional experience that that isn’t going to happen.

Robert: Right. And do it now. Get the book now. Experiment with it. Seed saving is not something that you can sit down and casually read one book and say “OK, I know everything there is to know.” You’re going to have to work with it. But it’s lots of fun.

Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to go ahead and say goodbye to our guests. I want to go ahead and add on to Cheryl’s idea that everyone should have a copy of this book. It’s a fantastic book. I’m sure that it’s already off of But you can also get it at Storey Publishing, your favorite bookstores – I’m sure there are other online venues that you can get it as well – “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” It goes through everything. It’s got the basics and beyond. It’s got the handbook from vegetables to nuts. Everything you’re going to need to want to know when it comes to saving seeds. It’s a great idea. I’m sure it’s a cool thing, Robert and Cheryl, you could do with your kids – Robert, as your grandfather did with you. It’s a great family thing. What a great way to teach kids science.

Robert: It’s wonderful.

Cheryl: Especially if you’re homeschooling your kids. It gives them some firsthand botany.

Brian: Firsthand botany – I like the way that sounds. And it’s all good. Once you stretch your mind, it never goes back. I forget, it may have been Thoreau or Emerson, but that “once you stretch your mind, it never goes back to its original dimensions.” Robert and Cheryl Gough, the authors of “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” – thank you so very much for hanging out with us for this hour. It most certainly was instrumental in stretching my mind. Believe me, guys, I’ll never look at seeds the same way from now on. When I do, I’ll remember Robert going “you’ve got to get right down in there and mix it up and see what you got.” Thank you so much for spending the full hour with us. Ladies and gentlemen, Robert and Cheryl Gough, “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.” Thank you so very much for spending some time with us today, guys.

Cheryl: Thanks, Brian.

Robert: Thank you for having us.

Brian: Alright, ladies and gentlemen, we’re running a little long just because, as you know, I’m always fired up to meet people smarter than I am and that was most certainly the case today. I want to thank you, before we let you go, for listening to Off the Grid Radio. Please continue to email us your questions, your comments, your critiques, your suggestions. We really do listen to some of the emails that we get and we use that information to go ahead and book future guests. You can leave us that info at, oddly enough, [email protected]. You can find us on Facebook – And of course you can follow us on Twitter @offgridnews. On behalf of Mr. Bill Heid, who wished he could be here with us today – I should tell you, he is a huge fan, as you all know if you’ve listened, about seeds and saving seeds and germination and the like and he learned it, oddly enough, from his grandfather as Robert learned from his. I knew he wanted to be here today but he could not. On behalf of Bill Heid, Solutions from Science our parent company, and the entire crew here at Off the Grid News – thank you so very much for sharing one of your hours with us. We know that’s a huge chunk of your valuable time and it really is an honor to have spent it with you. Again, Brian Brawdy for Off the Grid News. Farewell. We’ll talk to you soon.

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