By Rob Sproule
There’s a glorious patch of poppies in our perennial border that my wife’s Nana planted decades ago. Every year my wife waits for the rattle in the pods and spreads the seeds across the patch to make sure it stays healthy. If she wants to gift a pod, she waits till its dry and snaps off easily. The seeds sprinkle out the top like a salt shaker.
I’ve never seen poppies like them, and there’s a good chance that’s because they don’t exist anywhere else. An isolated, self-sowing plant can, over decades of natural selection, begin to become its own variety. Your yard may have colours and flowers that are distinctly unique from anything else.
Collecting seeds connects us with the deep rhythm of our garden. It makes our bond with our plants a little more intimate and allows us to preserve, share, and spread our favourite varieties.
Which Plants to Collect From
Some plants just aren’t worth it. Petunia seeds, for example, are borderline microscopic. Unless you want to trade your garden gloves for surgical ones, stick to the seeds you can see in your hand.
Don’t bother trying to collect from the exotic annuals in your hanging baskets. Designer plants like that have so hybridized and tinkered with that they’re probably either sterile or the seeds will produce a plant that is a long way removed from the parent plant.
Stick to the classics. Beans, basil, pumpkin, sunflower, calendula, echinacea, and poppies, and a host of other are excellent for seed harvesting. Keep in mind that with a few types, like echinacea, you may need to be quick to beat the birds to them.
Not all seeds are created equal. If the plant is small, prone to pests, and has barely squeezed out one or two flowers or fruit, you don’t want more of them. Humanity has been saving the best seeds, from the best performing plants, for eons in order to perfect our crops. Only the best plants should earn a spot in your seed bank.
Dry and Wet Seeds
You’ll want to harvest on a dry, sunny day at the end of summer or early fall. Make sure, especially with dry seeds, that the residue of any past rains have dried up.
The easiest seeds to harvest, dry seeds typically form after a flower has finished blooming.You’ll notice that the pod has gone from green to brown; often the best time to check is when you’re doing another task, like deadheading.
Once their pod or husk has dried, simply remove and crush or open it over some paper towels. Store them in a dry place until they’re completely dry.
Mushy veggies like tomatoes, eggplants, and most squashes offer wet seeds. They’re a little more involved to harvest than dry seeds in that they need to be separated from their pulp and washed.
Allow the fruit to mature fully (even until they’re over-ripe) before harvesting. Scoop the seeds out of the fruit, pulp and all (yes, you will get messy). Wash as much of the pulp off as you can and pour into a bowl of water. Dead seeds and the pulp will float so peel them off.
Store the cleaned seeds in dry paper towel until you need them. Put them in paper bags (not plastic), labelled with the variety and date harvested. Keep dry and at a temperature as close to 5 degrees C as possible. If you put them in the fridge, remember to keep the bag firmly closed as some seeds are toxic to eat and you don’t want them loose around your food.
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