Last night I taught a class on seed saving. Unfortunately I found out quickly that one hour is not enough time. So here I am wanting to get all that I missed down on paper. Last night we touched on how a seed is formed through pollination. I needed to stress how important the bees were to this important process in our gardens. My own brother had me over last year wondering why he had only one pumpkin plant on his vine. I looked around at his garden and didn’t see one flower in bloom. There were many evergreen shrubs but no flowers. Flowers that continually bloom during the year are so important to pollination in our gardens. We cannot have food without them.
I digress, back to seed saving. You may think its a bit early to think about seed saving. Many flowers and vegetables will be maturing this month. Last night I was able to find poppy and columbine seed pods, Allium seed heads and kale seed pods in my garden. The time to save seed starts when a plant you desire is starting to form seed heads. You need to watch your garden for the signs that this is happening. Often its just after the flowers have faded and parts of the centers of the flowers or pods on the plant start to yellow.
Click on the photo above to see what kale pods look like. On most plants many of their seeds are found around the flower but on kale plants pods form along the branches below the flowers. Each pod can contain close to forty seeds! So how do you harvest the seeds? I like to leave them on the plant until they are starting to yellow. Now its a fine line on when to harvest. If you leave the pods too long they will burst open spewing their seeds all over the garden. Now that’s not a bad thing if you want more kale in your garden as baby plants will grow if conditions are right. They may not be in the right spot but are easily transplanted. I remove the yellowed kale pods and pop them into an envelope. Just a plain ordinary envelope will do. The most important step is to label the envelope before you place your pods inside. When you get home and have a chance to look at your pods you can carefully crack them open to reveal tiny black seeds. Just compost the pod casings and keep the seeds in a nice cool dry place.
I like to store seeds in my garage as it’s a lot cooler. I use a big cardboard box and file envelopes like a filing cabinet. Not that it stays neat and tidy but I try. It starts out like the above photo but gets totally mixed up as planting season continues.
Okay, we talked about seeds that form in pods. Peas and beans are similar to kale in that you want to leave a few pods on the vine to ripen and go yellow. When you hear the rattle sound of peas in the pod, the seeds are ready to be harvested. They usually look yellow like the photo above.
Lets touch on some of the other vegetables. Some vegetables go to seed in the first year as they called annuals. Annuals are plants that grow and die in the same season. For example, one of the plants that will do this is lettuce. As our weather warms up this month your lettuce may start to bolt. Bolting is a reaction to higher temperatures. You see, your lettuce is actually a cool season plant and once it gets too warm its natural response is to set seed and die. Take a close look at the photo above and you will see that this lettuce has sent up a center stalk which looks like it will flower. Most of us yank the lettuce out at this point but why not leave one or two plants to flower and set seed? You can harvest lettuce seeds from the flowers once they fade. Save those collected seeds for a second crop in the fall.
Maybe you are a flower gardener and want to save flower seeds. Poppies are ripe for seed this month as they wind down. The trick is to get the poppy seeds before they drop to the ground. Now you could place a small organza bag over the seed pods so you don’t lose them. You know how it is, the one day you check is sometimes one day too late and the pods are empty. The poppy has a unique way of dispersing its seeds. See the little cap on the seed head above. Just around the bottom edge of that cap little holes will appear as the pod dries. A bit of wind or movement caused by humans or animals will tip the pod over and allow its seeds to sprinkle on the ground below. I love my poppies and this one is a perennial one so I collect the seeds to grow new plants. Poppy seeds can be hard to germinate and are best dropped into the garden in the fall. They should germinate the following spring and reward you with new blooms.
This month your Aquilegia or columbine will be forming its seed pods as well. You can collect the seed pods easily but be careful as the seeds are like poppy seeds, very tiny and easy to spill. I love the different colours of columbine in the garden. This is one perennial plant that will self sow rewarding you with lots of new plants. It makes a great cut flower for spring bouquets.
Remember when buying seeds to look for open pollinated varieties. Seed collected from these plants will be true and look like the parent plant. You can collect seeds from hybrids but you may be disappointed. Hybrids are a cross obtained from two parent plants and their offspring from seed could be entirely different.
So many plants and so many potential seed collecting opportunities. Why do I collect seed? I believe in the preservation of seed diversity and protecting our heirloom plants from being lost. I want to continue to grow the flowers, fruits and vegetables that grew in my grandmothers garden. If can teach just one more person how to collect seed and preserve a species, then my mission is accomplished. The act of seeing a tiny seed grow into a full-sized plant is truly a miracle.