How to save true Pepper Seed

If you want to save seed from your peppers to grow next year the following will guide you through the process.

Seed Saving tips

For seed to grow true (next years crop being the same as this years crop) there are two requirements: First, the seed from which this years crop was grown must not be a hybrid. Second, the flowers must be fertilized with pollen from their own variety so that the next generation seed are not hybrid.

A hybrid is a plant grown from fruit that was fertilized with pollen from a different but still reproductively compatible variety of plant. This transporting of pollen is usually done by insects such as bees, so insect barriers of some sort are necessary to harvest true seed.

Preventing Cross Pollination

Netting is an easy way to prevent cross pollination for most pepper fruit if you’re going to save seed and want the seed to grow true – i.e. next generation is like the current generation. The problem with open pollinated peppers is that genetic material (pollen) from other pepper varieties gets into the genes of the seed (via bees and other insects). The result of this is a much different plant than either parent and referred to as an F1 hybrid. Some hybrids are very useful (and commercially exploited) though by far most are inferior and undesirable.

The netting is used to prevent insects from getting to the flowers of the parent plant thereby assuring that the flowers are pollinated by themselves. The fruit then develops seed which will grow true to the parent – provided that the parent is not a hybrid. In the later case the next generation may look different once again, this time being called an F2 hybrid. Many commercial vegetables are deliberate hybrids (for disease resistance, fruit size, predictable harvest times, etc) and therefore won’t grow true if the seed is extracted and planted.

Another method which may be easier for some is isolating the pepper(s) from which you want to save seed. For example, putting the plant by itself in a greenhouse will work provided that insects don’t get in. Obviously the plant must be movable (i.e. in a pot) and isolated before the flowers open, or any flowers must be picked off when starting the isolation phase.

Will planting Jalapenos next to Bell Peppers make Hot Bell Peppers?

No. Not this year anyway.

Cross pollination does not affect the shape, flavor, or size of this generation’s fruit – only the genes in the developing seed are affected. Therefor different pepper varieties can be planted cheek by jowl and still harvest proper looking and proper tasting fruit from each plant. In order to get altered plant characteristics the seed from the cross fruit would have to be saved and planted again for the effects to show.

Can Peppers of different species cross pollinate?

Yes, though not always.

There are many species of peppers, and by rule of thumb the distinction between separate species (for all living things – not just peppers) is defined by the viability of offspring from cross breeding. This is the rule of thumb but it quickly runs into gray areas. For example, what if male plant A can fertilize female plant B but not the other way around? What if viable offspring can be produced but only in rare cases? What if viable offspring is always produced but the offspring is sterile? What if two groups of plants have evolved on separate paths for a long period, are still capable of crosses, but don’t cross in nature because of different habitats, flowering periods, or are physically remote to each other? The point is that different pepper species can and do cross with one another with varying success. Therefor precautions must be taken even between different pepper species with some exceptions.

Using Netting Material

The best netting material I have found is bridal veil material (also called nylon netting) from any fabric store. You can get it in thin mesh (0.02 inch weave) or a more open mesh (0.1 inch weave). Both work fine. It is very inexpensive at around $0.85 per yard (the width is 6 feet). It can last more two seasons though it is so inexspensive that I don’t bother. Beware of Bridal stores. They have some really expensive material that is way beyond what you need.

Use the netting to bag off a major branch (after picking off any open flowers) and wait for ripe fruit. A simplified description follows below. For a complete step by step description with pictures go to the Using Netting page. Some more examples are on the More Netting Examples page. I have tried to make the best compromise between image resolution and load times. The netting page is about 300K bytes which should load in under two mnutes at 28K baud.

It takes a little practice to apply the netting to a growing plant. It tends to stick and bind of the branches while jockying into position unless you know the secret: Gather it up z-fold style into a rope like form, snake it around the base of a branch to be netted, and then pull up one edge of the netting to extend it up and around the branch. Because the pulling direction is with the plant growth direction it does not stick or cause damage.

Then overlap the edges of the netting and fasten with wooden clothes pins. The clothes pins are a quick and easy way to fasten the netting allowing access to harvest fruit and allow readjusting the netting as the branch grows. Do not buy the fancy colored plastic clothes pins. The plastic breaks down from the sun’s UV in just a few weeks. Wooden ones will warp and discolor but remain functional for 2 to 3 years.

I also sometimes use small plastic tie wraps to fasten the netting to a cage rail or a bracing stake. This works particularly well with the more open mesh netting since the tie wraps fit nicely through the mesh. Tie wraps are usually used to bundle electrical cables and can be found in the electrical section of any hardware store.

Some Pitfalls to Watch For When Using Netting

1) Be sure to brace the netted branch somehow so it won’t break when the netting becomes wet (it can hold a lot of water) or if the wind picks up. I use cheap bamboo planting stakes for support.

2) Some peppers grow a whole bunch while flowering and setting fruit (especially c. Baccatums). The enclosed space within the netting needs large and sometimes adjusted as the branch grows, or the flowers and leaves turn into a tangled ball, limiting the number of fruit.

3) Some varieties of peppers don’t do a good job of fertilizing themselves. This is probably due to the physical design of the flower which has wider separated male/female parts. A symptom of this is a plant that sets fruit fine outside the netting but doesn’t set fruit inside the netting. In this case you might have to do the job of a worker bee and gather pollen from the flower anthers with a small paint brush and wipe it on to the pistil. I use a different paint brush for each variety that I hand pollinate.

Improving Plant Characteristics through Fruit Selection

If you are going to save seed then try to net off as many branches as you can, and on more than one plant if possible. This way you can save the seed only from the healthiest and best adapted plants/fruit. Keep the seed from the Primo Fruit separate from the average fruit, and eat all the deformed, diseased, or less desirable ones. This makes future generations more adapted to your local environment, more disease resistant, and more appealing.

Of course if all you have is a poor crop then save what you can and start the selection process next year.

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