Monday, March 21, 2016

Seed Collection: Tips for Gathering and Storing Seeds in the Home Garden



Seed collection is a simple way to re-grow some of your garden favourites as well as expand you collection with seeds from friends and sharing sources. If you're really keen, you can even start to develop your own unique strains, but I'm a simple "leave it to the bees" kind of gal...at least for now! It is autumn here (happy spring to folks up north!) and prime seed collecting time in the garden. When selecting seeds for collection, specimens from your best performers and favourite plants with consideration of whether they will be direct sown or if you will need to start them for later transplant.  I am a big fan of direct sow varieties - nature can replant in situ while I supplement and spread with my collected seeds. Whatever your preferences, here are some quick tips on harvesting seeds for storage and replanting:
  • Wait until your seeds are mature and ready for collection. Try to appreciate the messy appearance of your garden as part of the natural process...haha! See pitfalls below. :)
  • Harvest your seeds on a dry day so that the pods are free from environmental moisture. I prefer (when timing and weather cooperate) to let things mature fully on the plant and harvest after several days of continuous dry weather to minimise any indoor drying as I simply don't have a suitable location for extra dry-outs (see below).
  • Use clean garden scissors or cutters to collect the seed heads and pods.  I find that clipping over and into a bowl really helps with the collection process, especially for plants with open/loose seeds so that you also catch any seeds that sprinkle out.
  • Ensure that your plant material is fully dry before preparing for storage. If your pods are not completely dry, place your clippings somewhere warm and dry to dry-out completely before separating the seeds for storage.  Spreading them on screen, newspaper, or something similar helps to speed things up, reduce the risk of mold/rot, and (provided the screen is small enough, of course) contain any seed that may fall out in the process.
  • Separate your seed from any pods and other plant matter.  Don't forget to compost the waste. 
  • Place your separated seeds in labelled paper bags or paper envelopes.  I prefer envelopes as they are really convenient to use, and very easy to organise and store. If you'd like to fancy things up, there are some very cute printable seed envelopes out there, like these fab freebies from Pass the Pistil.  A great way to gift seeds from your garden to friends and family.
  • Make notes in your garden journal if/as you wish.
  • Store in a cool, dry, dark location until replanting.  If you have any silica gel packets hanging around (I horde those little "do not eat" packets that come in products), consider placing some with your stored seed for extra moisture protection.

A few pitfalls to be aware of:
  • Not all plants will produce true-to-type seeds, including many modern hybrids, due to parent plant genetics and/or cross-pollination in your growing cycle. With an open-air urban garden, it can be difficult to control the latter.
  • Some plants can be very difficult or slow to propagate from seed.  Other methods, such as runners, cuttings, root cuttings, or division, might offer better options if you would like to propagate, so a little research might save you a lot of effort and time.
  • Biennials will only seed in their second year. If you live in a temperate location, you may simply need to wait things out; however, if you have a "real" winter, then you would need to overwinter and replant to get the second-season seeds.
  • As I've shared in some of our past garden week posts, leaving plants to ripen/dry for seed collection doesn't always mesh with keeping a picture perfect garden.  Some flowers, like nigella, have beautiful seed pods that are garden specimens in and of themselves whilst other plants just look like fading spindly heaps of garden neglect.
  • If you're collecting seeds from pulpy/fleshy fruits or veggies, you'll need to go through some extra effort with extracting/separating, washing, and drying out seeds from your ripe edibles, but won't need to endure the same natural dry-out time in the garden as you will for most flowers and pod plants.
  • Don't expect 100% success. Even if you have a perfect process (if so, do share!) you will likely still encounter some germination fails or parent-child mismatches.  It's all part of the gardening experience!

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