Seeds and Seed Collecting
Seed collecting and trading has become a fine art for us. We feel it is important to offer our nursery customers new and interesting things and to keep current with the newest developments in ornamental plants. We do, of course, keep and dry some of our own vegetable seeds, but we also harvest seeds from the perennials and annuals that we like to grow and trade them to other gardeners around the world. This way we can get a wide variety of interesting and hard to find plants for the garden. The US does not allow plant material across it's borders but I haven't had a problem with seeds, although I've read that others have. Trading plants and seeds with other, mostly European, countries has not been a problem, but shipping costs can be prohibitive for plants.
Below are a few of my favourite perennials and annuals that I continue to grow and love. Most of these seeds will need winter stratification in order to germinate. That means that they will need a few weeks of damp winter cold before they will grow. I save these for winter sowing.
Winter seed sowing is a great hobby for those of us who hanker for the smell of the Earth and growing things in February, when the world is covered with a sheet of ice and snow. Here in Ontario, winter falls in late Dec or early Jan and we don't see the ground again until Spring, approximately mid March. I keep potting soil in the basement and seed equipment. Any plastic container with a clear lid makes a great winter sewing container. I save those clear, hard plastic cookie boxes from the grocery store and plant in those, after poking holes in the bottom. Then I put these lidded containers out on the deck in the snow and leave them there. They sprout quickly in the very early spring, as soon as the days are long enough. You can obtain winter stratification in the freezer, but it is a lot dryer than the outdoors and doesn't work for eveything. You get much better germination rates by winter sewing. You can also plant these seeds directly in the ground in the fall but they sprout earlier in covered containers. It's like being in a cold frame. Besides...it gives me an excuse to dig in the dirt in the middle of winter. (More about winter sewing when it happens.)
I do have several other perennials and flowing shrubs, but they don't often reseed. The annuals grow to their full potential in the first year and can be reproduced to cover large areas quickly. Below are some that I consider among the best and most beautiful reseeders.
This is impatiens Grandulifera. The big, yellow, fuzzy bumblebees love it! It gets 6 ft tall and looks like this in flower:
The seedpods are sometimes called "touch-me-nots" because, when ripe, they expode if you touch them and scatter their seeds everywhere. You have to collect them carefully. I close my hand, gently, over the entire pod before applying any pressure and try to get all the seeds. Many escape when the bees set them off or the wind shakes it. You can also use a small paper bag closed over the end of the branch, but I have not tried this method. They reseed themselves prolifically and I am always moving them to better places when they come up everywhere in the spring. Due to their height, I keep them at the back of the bed. They look spetacular in large, dense groupings.
This is impatiens Balsamina. It gets about a foot tall and reseeds itself generously. These have exploding seed pods, as well, so have to be gathered carefully.
This is pink nicotiana, also called "Nikkies" among gardeners who grow them. Their seeds don't develop until vary late in the season for me, then all at once. The seedpods have begun to mature now.
We occasionally keep the best of the vegetables for seeds, thereby improving our stock with each generation. Some seeds do cross pollinate or do not grow true, but that's the interesting part. We try not to plant vegetables too close together that will cross pollinate. Squash and pumpkins of the same family need to be separated by a large space.
Vegetable seed collecting is fairly straitforward, except for a few exceptions. Cucumbers and tomatoes have to be very ripe when picked and still need to age for a week or two on the counter top, until almost rotten. Then the seeds are collected, put into a container of warm water and left at room temperature to ferment a few days. Stir them occasionally and after about three or four days, strain them, rinse well and dry. All fruit and vegetable seeds need to be collected from fully ripe, if not over-ripe, vegetables and fruit.