Become a Seed Saver
Everyone knows what is generally meant by man’s oldest profession. Yet, assuming this statement is true, farming has to be man’s second oldest profession. Growing food is necessary to sustain life. The natural axiom includes learning how to plant at the proper time. And all is based upon collecting and saving seed.
How Did It Begin?
Tribe herbalists knew which plants were edible and collected them. They knew which seeds to gather and when. These were skills they passed on to their children. It was probably by pure accident that a lost pouch of seed was left out in the weather where the seed began to sprout in the spring. This would naturally lead to purposeful gardening.
Collecting seed is what we want to learn today sans a tribal elder. There may be some mistakes along the way. This requires such little skill that most of your efforts will work the first time. Fortunately collecting seed is a natural procedure anyone can do. One doesn’t need to be highly skilled to be a seed saver. Even people with no gardening knowledge can gather seed.
What Seed Can You Save?
So, you are starting to wonder what seeds you can collect. That’s the beauty of being a seed saver. All seed can be saved. Sure some may require specialized skills. Generally speaking nearly all gathered seed are easy to care for and easy to prepare for sprouting. It does help to know a bit about the plants you plan to collect seed from as well as their growth habit. The internet will alert you to those that need special care you may wish to avoid until you have developed your skills. Vegetable seeds are especially easy.
Fruit Seed Can Be Saved
Most seed should be collected when their vessel is ripe. Sometimes this means that if the vessel tastes good then the seed is ripe and ready to be collected. Eating an apple means that the seed is ripe. Cantaloupes you cut up for your summer breakfast has ripe seeds ready to be collected. Fruit seed vessels are designed this way on purpose. When the flesh is eaten so are the seed. The seed are able to survive the digestive tract. Then they are spread to areas well away from the parent waiting for the right time to sprout. Simply collect as many of the seed as you wish when eating ripe fruit. Be sure to wash them thoroughly to remove any flesh that may be attached to them. This is important to minimize pathogenic fungi from doing harm to the seed while consuming any flesh still attached to the seed.
Other Types of Seed Vessels
Other seed comes in vessels that turn brown. Then they dry to the point where they split open. This allows the seed to fall out. Daylilies produce this type of pod. Beans also will produce a dry pod that will split open with little effort. The challenge collecting these seeds is to do so before the seed is spilled out. Watch these carefully. Collect them when the pod is thoroughly brown and hopefully beginning to split open. It is often helpful to not force the seed out but to let the whole vessel dry in a shallow container with plenty of air circulation. Then when completely dry you will be able to crack them open to retrieve the seed.
Composite flowers like Echinacea and Rudbeckia and some others produce dried flower heads that are sharply pointed. Their ripe seed is nestled between sharp spikes. They have this severe vessel because they are designed for the specialized birds who able to pick out the ripe seed. The seed for these plants can be retrieved by placing the thoroughly dry seed heads in a large paper bag or a large plastic container with a secure lid. Vigorously shake the heads to dislodge the seed. You may not be able to completely gather all the seed so do collect plenty of these dried seed heads so that you will have enough seed to plant.
Familiar Composite Flower Seed
German Chamomile, Strawflowers and many other types of different composite flowers form wispy seed heads. This type of seed is attached to little umbrellas attached to the seed. Dandelions are a good example too. They are designed to let the wind carry the seed to disperse them far and wide. The trick is to collect these before the wind scatters the seed. Don’t worry. You will have a couple of days to collect the seed. The umbrellas cannot carry the seed until the seed is ripe enough to detach from where they are anchored. Collect the entire seed head as you see the umbrellas begin to puff up. The seed just needs a bit more time to dry. Save the seed heads in a large paper bag or a large plastic container. Allow plenty of air to reach these until very dry. Then shake them vigorously. The seed will easily detach from the umbrella as they are designed to do.
Grass Seed Heads
Grasses and grains often produce their seed on the top of the plant. These seeds are easy to collect. Most can be gathered in a cupped hand running along the length of the seed frond. Care should be taken to wear gloves when doing this. The seed heads can be sharp. This seed can be collected by cutting the whole frond. After it is thoroughly dry, they can be put in a large paper bag and vigorously shaken to release the grain. Holding the fronds in one hand and sharply striking the side of the bag also works well too and the action helps release pent up frustrations.
Preparing Your Seed for Storage
These are most of the different ways you may find seed ripening on plants. Little practice collecting your favorite seed is required. Paying special attention to not allow seed vessels to ripen to the point where seed is scattered is perhaps your greatest challenge. Generally one must thoroughly dry the collected seed before separating the seed from the chaff.
Preparing the seed for storage may mean cleaning any unwanted plant material from the seed. Fine mesh screens are invaluable for tiny seed. Your fine mesh screen used to sift flour or strain lumps out of your cream soup work well. Gentle puffs of breath directed at a pile of seed and chaff in a large metal bowl may be necessary. Just be careful to not let the breeze be so strong that you blow the seed with the chaff. A variation is to use a fan. Then drop all in front of the breeze with a large bowl to catch the seed as the chaff is blown away. Yet, another method is to use a flat metal tray. Tilt the tray and use a small piece of cardboard to gently toss the pile of chaff and the small round seed will roll down and away from the chaff. Use one of those business cards you have collected for this purpose.
For now it is enough to collect dry and clean your seed. Don’t overly stress about cleaning your seed. You may not completely clean it as well as a seed company anyway. Sometimes it isn’t even necessary to clean the chaff away though it does help one when planting to know how concentrated you are sowing the seed the cleaner it is. Collected Zinnia seed comes to mind. It is difficult to separate the seed from faded petals. In this case overplanting may win out over becoming neurotic trying to only save only the seed from the chaff.
Once the seed is cleaned you can prepare them for storage. This will be the topic of the next article. It is called stratification. Treating your seed the right way will encourage more to sprout when planted.
Now you can save those seed from your grandmother so that you can have them to grow yourself and to share with your friends. Creating or preserving plants to remind you of lost family is important to all of us. Many of my plants were grown in family gardens close to a hundred years ago. They have special meaning in my own garden for this reason alone. It is enough reason to carefully collect seed each and every growing season to continue those memories. I hope you too will find this important as well.