Monday, September 14, 2009

Saving Seeds

Autumn is my favourite time of the year! I love the cool, crisp weather and the wonderully diverse, bright colour scheme. I also like the lack of thick undergrowth and weeds. Late summer and early fall are the time of year when the plants decide it is time to reproduce for next year. I try to prevent this stage in the weeds, but get excited when my favouite flowers seeds are ready to harvest.

In order to have flower seeds, a plant has to have flowers. No flowers, no seeds. The flowers also have to stay on the plant to develop into seed pods. If you cut off the flowers for bouquets or cut off the dead flowers, you won't have seeds. I know it looks a bit messy with dead flowers aging in the garden, but it is necessary in order to have seeds from those flowers. If you want pristine gardens, perhaps you should have your "seed gardens" somewhere out of sight where the long dead flowers and stalks will not be seen.

I also like to save my special vegetable seeds. We grow a very sweet and fat cucumber that we like a lot. We have grown it from our own seed for a few years now. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment in order to germinate the following spring. I will describe how to do that later in this post. This year I hand pollinated my squash to get more produce. I should have tied the male and female flowers closed before and after I hand pollinated them to keep the seed very pure, but I didn't. I will do that next year.

While I love my flowers and gardens, I also love seed collecting. Sometimes I have to remind myself that having a large and diverse collection of seeds is not the goal. I should be actually planting the seeds in order for them to be of any use. I not only plant the seeds for more plants in the garden, but use them for trading as well. This way I can trade all over the world for things I cannot buy here. It is very exciting to grow something rare and spectacular from a seed acquired by trading with another gardener from another country or even another continent.

I have a large unused field by the road that I plan to use as a repository for old flower seed. If the seed gets to be a year old and I still have it, I will scatter it in that field in the fall. This will be the first fall that I have done this. I am hoping for a field full of flowers next spring. I have a lot of cosmos, feverfew, calendula, peony poppy and pink yarrow seeds from 2008 to scatter in there soon. All are prolific reseeders. I am sure many will grow. I won't be using these old seeds for trade or sell, as the germination rates will not be as good as the 2009 seeds, but I can reap the harvest that does grow from those seeds for use the following year.

I started a seed bed this year for direct planting of seeds and to hold seedlings I started indoors until they are big enough to hold their own in the flower bed. I have helleborus seeds in there now, planted in July. They will need at least two months of moist warm summer temps planted in the ground and then two months of cold before they will germinate. I will be looking for these seedlings next spring. I did, also, plant some in trays on the front porch to bring in after their cold spell. I will put these indoors on the windowsill in Jan and hope for some tiny helleborus several weeks later. These are special seeds and must be sown while fresh, immediately after harvesting from the plant. If they are allowed to dry for very long, it will take several warm-cold spells to break dormancy and can take a long time. The seeds that I have were sent to me directly from the plant in a small plastic bag in damp perlite.

My flowers have been producing seed for a few weeks now. I have harvested many from the flowerbeds. These are the peony poppy seed pods drying. Each plant is labelled in the garden so I know what colour the seeds are, even though they are open pollinated. With seeds, you never know what you are going to get. With special seeds from a trade, I will plant all of them.
The poppy seed pods are cut to dry when the leaves turn brown and the plant starts to die. There is no point in trying to ripen the seeds any longer.

These are cranesbill geranium seed candles. They tend to pop when the seed is released and the seed will fly out of the container and into other seed containers drying various types of seed, so I keep them covered. The plant is covered with them now, but they are still green. Seed pods should not be picked until the pod turns brown to ensure that the seeds are ripe. Some seeds will ripen off the plant, but most of them need to grow into maturity on the live plant in order to be viable. There are many exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course.

I have just begun to get ripe ground cherries. This is the first year I have grown them and I will grow them again next year for jam. I think they are delicious! I will be saving my own seed from these this year. I have already used one ground cherry for seed harvest and dried them on a papertowel. I have read that they are prolific reseeders, so I expect most of the seed to germinate next spring without any special preparation.

I also save the seed from our cucumbers as these are the best cucumbers we have found. They are big around and great for sandwiches. They are ripe when they are yellow, turning a bright orange-red when over ripe. When they are ripe, they are very sweet. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment to be viable the following year. The fruit needs to ripen completely before the seed is harvested. When it is ripe enough on the plant it can be picked and left at room temperature to ripen further. It should be left to ripen until it is soft and mushy before the seed is harvested. The seed is then put into a glass container and left to ferment even further for a few days. After another 2-3 days of fermentation, the seed can be washed, dried and stored for the following year.

Some seeds need a winter in the ground before they will germinate. These seeds are either planted in the ground in the fall or planted into flats and put on shelves on the front porch. They will have a month or two of warm weather, then they will be exposed to the fall and winter temps. I will bring them indoors in Dec-Jan and put in the south seed window to germinate. I have tried leaving them outdoors until spring to germinate in their containers when the weather warms up, but have had poor success with that. You can also put them into baggies with a little damp soil and put these into the freezer or the fridge for a couple of months, then plant in flats or pots for indoor starting.

All seed need to be dried before storing. I dry mine on an elevated screen on the front porch. The tiny seeds and smaller amounts I dry on a thin papertowel in a container with holes in it. A strainer or a plastic berry box from the grocery store are good containers for this. I always write the name of the plant on the papertowel or on a piece of paper drying with the seed. Seeds can take weeks to ripen and dry completely and I will forget what plant and variety they came from if they are not labelled.

After the seeds are completely dry, you can store it in a small plastic bag or glass jar. I prefer to store mine in labelled paper envelopes in a basket, ensuring that they stay dry and do not rot or mold in storage. Do not store them in the refrigerator or freezer unless the seed requires this for germination but do keep them in a cool, dry spot. On top of the refrigerator is too warm.

I keep my list of seeds for trading at my Gardenweb seed list page here:
If you are interested in a seed trade and have some things that will interest me, please send me an email.


The Japanese Redneck said...

Very interesting. I've never seen ground cherries before. Will have to look them up.


Providence Acres Farm said...

I will grow a lot more of them next year. They are delicious!