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I have a crude understanding that planted seeds should be non-hybrid non-gmo open-pollinated in order for their offspring to be as good as the parents.

If I try to use organic produce from the grocery store to start different varieties of plants which of them would create quality offspring?

Any root vegetables like potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, beets?

Any vegetables that still have their roots intact like scallions or watercress?

Also what different seeds would work? Chia seeds? Flax seeds? Wheatgrass seeds? Other seeds?

For fruit, I assume that many fruits have sproutable seeds, but that few if any would grow a new generation as good as the parent? Is this correct?

Also my local market has tomatoes labels as "heirloom tomatoes". Are the seeds in these really "heirloom" and replantable or is this just a marketing gimmick?

By the way, I am not asking if it is a good idea. I am not planning on starting a garden this way, I am more interested from an educational perspective.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You're better off buying seeds from the rack in the front of the store.

  • Potatoes are often treated to prevent sprouting.
  • If you buy organic potatoes, they may sprout, but they may also be carrying diseases. Normally you'd want to buy certified disease-free "seed" potatoes.
  • Garlic might also be treated to prevent sprouting, but planting the cloves might work. You'd probably be better off to purchase a variety that is known to do well in your area.
  • Onions, carrots, and beets are all biennial. You'd have to store them overwinter, plant the root back in the ground in the spring, and harvest seed. If the vegetable you purchased was a hybrid (they probably are), then the seeds you'd get from this method will not be true to the parent.
  • I don't know about the seeds (flax, etc). If they haven't been heat-treated (e.g. to kill bugs), then you may be able to plant them. Again you may have the hybrid issue.
  • As far as "other" seeds, I might mention dry beans, again with the heat treatment and hybrid caveats.
  • Tree fruit (apples, pears, stone fruit, etc) are normally propagated vegetatively. The seed may be viable, and would grow into a tree, but it is unlikely to produce fruit that tastes like the parent (and, I've heard, is unlikely to be worth eating at all).
  • Vegetables that are really fruit (e.g. tomato) and are sold mature (e.g. pumpkin and other winter squash -- not zucchini and other summer squash), and are truly "heirloom" will probably contain seeds that will viably produce another generation. The issue you may run into here is that the vegetables were produced without paying attention to the things that are important for seed saving: roguing, maintaining genetic diversity, and avoiding cross-pollination. Some plants (squashes) cross very easily, so you may get odd results if your heirloom pumpkins were grown nearby some other squash family plant. Most producers selling at market will probably have a large enough population to maintain genetic diversity, but if you don't then the plants that you grow may be weak. Finally, the producers aren't roguing off-types, so your plants may have undesirable genetic variations.
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man, I must be doing something wrong, because I'm always forgetting about produce I buy and ending up with sprouts. Potatoes, garlic, ginger, onions, &c. –  dwightk Apr 16 '14 at 15:41

Here is a good infographic that describes using scraps to regrow onions, celery, ginger, garlic, mushroom, potatoes, and pineapple:

http://cookingstoned.tv/blog/2014/02/food-that-magically-regrows-itself-from-kitchen-scraps/

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I just put the seed in the ground and if they turn out too be really good i save the seed.I have store bought garlic i have been growing for 20 years.

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A bag of whole coriander seeds from the asian market will generally sprout and give you a nice pot of tasty cilantro. It'll grow back through a couple choppings, but eventually flower and go to seed. Freeze excess chopped leaves to preserve flavor.

Heirloom tomato seeds can be preserved and planted from storebought. Be aware though that different varieties of tomato love to cross-pollinate. When I save Black Krim seed from my own garden, which always includes several types of tomato, I get about 3 total years crop that looks and tastes vaguely like krim. Then it's time to get new seed. You'll do better if you buy your tomatoes from a farm that has 50 acres of exclusive Krim, or whatever, production, and only plant the one variety yourself. Of course then you have to worry about the neighbor's tomato pollen, and risk disease wiping out your whole crop. Squashes from the store seem to breed reasonably true. Obviously I haven't tried them all, but Acorn and butternut.

Grocery store Cherimoya will readily give you nice little trees. Sadly, they're not cold tolerant.

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There are three main problems I see with planting seeds from grocery store produce.

  1. They might be genetically engineered, unless they're certified organic.
  2. They might be patented or protected by plant breeders rights of some kind. If they're genetically engineered, odds are extremely high that they are patented, unless they're over 20 years old.
  3. You really don't know what they are, because even when they label a tomato Roma, for instance, that doesn't mean it's necessarily a Roma tomato.

I recommend contacting the grower to find more information about whatever you'd like to grow, but try not to let them know you're wanting to grow them, and either way, don't expect a useful, thorough answer.

For people who are selling fruits marketed as heirlooms, you're really just trusting them to be selling what they say they are. Ask them what variety they are. They probably are heirlooms, but if you're going to grow them you'll probably want to know the variety. Lacking the variety, you'll want to know where they were grown to make sure they'll grow in your climate.

GMO seeds should normally be as fertile as heirlooms, and they'll likely breed true. However, since they're probably patented they might cross with your other stuff and give you serious legal problems that I don't recommend you want to deal with. Also, they may produce BT toxin and/or such.

Hybrids are often fertile, depending on what kinds of plants you're talking about, but it's very statistically unlikely that they'll breed 100% true. It helps if you know the parentage of your hybrids. Then you'll be likely to know if they had differing numbers of chromosomes or such, or if there are any definite undesirable traits from parents that might show up in the F2+ generations.

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