Tag Archives: seeds

Demystifying Seed Collecting: Harvesting, Storing and Sharing

nasturtium babies

nasturtium babies

It started with a nasturtium seed in a paper cup. Oh so many years ago, my first grade teacher instructed her classroom of 6-year olds how to plant the round nubby seeds. Within a week or 2, the first beautiful leaves broke through the soil. I have been smitten with germination ever since.

Many folks sow their are own annual seeds, but not so many give perennials a try. It is important to note that in recent years seed sown perennial selections have dwindled at garden centers.  Wholesale suppliers now favor the patented sterile clones that some say boast more uniform growth. (Hey control freak gardeners, it’s time to let go of that! )

honeybee on a single white Chrysanthemum

Upon becoming a beekeeper 5 years ago, I got a wake up call that seed-grown perennials provided more pollen and nectar, which in turn nourish our honey and native bees.  Our plant selections now include many more seed sown strains of perennials, shrubs and even trees, and this is the trend we foresee for other small specialty growers.

This brings me back to the importance of this topic:  seed collecting. Here are more reasons to encourage you to  harvest your own seed.

  1. To be able to propagate more plants for new garden beds
  2. To preserve strains that you find remarkable
  3. To be economical  (seeds are getting expensive)
  4. To participate in seed exchanges.  One benefit of joining various plant organizations such as the Hardy Plant Society or the North American Rock Garden Society is you have access to their seed exchanges. Share your seed with other members, and get access to many varieties not found at the local garden center.

peonies…the blue fruit are the ones that have fertile seeds

The first question many first time seed collectors ask is when should they harvest seed. This varies from plant to plant. You do need to collect seed as soon at it ripens, before the pods or capsules burst and dispense. Seed ripens at different times on different plants throughout the year so you need to pay close watch. Spring bloomers like Primrose and Vernal Sweet Pea ripen in June and early July, while on a late August day, the pods of species peonies burst to expose their bright red and blue fruit (the blue seeds are the fertile ones). Bluestar seed pods are ready to collect in early September, while it may be late October before you can harvest seeds of Compass Plant.

Our changing climate will challenge any timing rules. However, I just came across a website which may be of great help  the Seed Site .  It has a wealth of information on what pods and ripened seed look like on hundreds of different plant species.

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum paniculatum

Once you collect your seed, you should clean off the chaff and store in a cool dry spot in paper or glassine envelopes.  Make sure there are no tiny insect pests hanging out in the capsules. Some seed, such as Arisaema (Jack in the Pulpits) and Hellebores benefit by being stored enclosed in a moist paper towel inside a baggy, and kept in the refrigerator until spring.  Remember to label right away. You think you’ll remember, but…

The proper time for sowing and seed treatments differ depending on the plant. There is no one source that has complete information, but we often refer to the Jelitto Seed Website for germination tips. 

I encourage you to save your own seed. Yes, there is always more to learn,  but once you start you will gain confidence.  Go outside now and see whether you have a windfall of seed ready for harvesting.

Collecting Seed for Seed Exchanges

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum paniculatum

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum paniculatum

A few of the various Plant Societies which I belong to have seed exchanges, and I made a pledge to myself to get my seed collecting done, cleaned, sorted and packaged into little envelopes to meet this year’s deadline, which is usually Nov 1.  Time always has a way of getting ahead of you, so I was relieved to learn on the Hardy Plant Society’s webpage that they have extended the deadline this year to Nov 15, and I can fill out the donation forms online and mail the seed in later! The North American Rock Garden Society is not being so lenient; they want the list of seed being donated by Nov 1st, although they will allow a grace period until Dec 1st to package and send your seed in.

Yes, it does take time to process and save seed, but let me tell you why it is worth all the trouble. First, if you want to grow more of the plants, especially the annuals, which you enjoyed in your garden this year, why not collect the seed and save yourself a few dollars. Second, you may not be able to find a particular seed variety next year. I have found this true when it is an unusual variety that commercial growers do in limited numbers, or more likely their source dried up or had a crop failure. Third, you are bound to collect more seed that you can use, so why not share the bounty by participating in a seed exchange? Most seed exchanges work this way: You become a member of the group, such as the Hardy Plant Society, which collects and pools the seed, then makes the seed available to its membership at a very inexpensive price ($.50). A big plus: seed donors get first dibs at the selection,  and get to select an extra 10 packets for their efforts. Groups like the Seed Savers Exchange allow you to purchase seed without becoming a member, but membership has its perks….lots of information, discounts and member’s only offerings, plus you’re supporting an important organization.

There’s a lot to know about collecting seed, but it is beyond the scope of this blog post to get into a lot of detail.  Besides, there is so much information now on the internet that you no doubt will find answers to particular seed questions in a web search. I just want to pass on some basic tips.

  • Collect seed on a sunny dry day. Wet seed pods can harbor spores which may encourage mold and spoil the seed.
  • Label your seed correctly, especially if you plan to donate to a seed exchange.
  • If you grow several varieties of certain plants and they are within close range of each other (for example: several different forms/colors of zinnias) your seed will not come true to type. You may get some interesting variations and colors, but you should label it as such. Also, seeds from most F1 Hybrids will not come true.
  • Watch seed pods daily for maturity. You want to capture them just before they explode all over your garden.
  • Store the seed in paper bags in a dry spot until you have time to clean and sort.
  • Separate the chaff from the seed when packaging.

Here are  links for more information on joining a few Plant Societies.

The Hardy Plant Society–Mid Atlantic Group

The Hardy Plant Society–UK

North American Rock Garden Society

The Seed Savers Exchange

Seed Collecting Tips

Clockwise from top left: Paeonia obovata, Amsonia hubrictii, Aster laeve, Nicotiana knightiana

The most frequently asked question regarding seed collecting is How do I know if seed is ripe?” Here’s a very general answer, for seeds of different plants ripen at different times, and their appearance, when ripe, can be as different as the individual plants that produced them. You need to keep a watchful eye. Observe the green immature pods over time, and suddenly you’ll notice brown seed capsules ready to split and burst. If you are not vigilant, you may discover empty seed pods days later, and your opportunity will have passed. (You can also try placing a paper bag over the immature seed capsule and securing it with string. When the seed ripens it will be contained in the bag.)

Collecting Tips: Mature seeds are usually dark in color, firm, and dry. Seeds that are green and moist are usually immature and generally will not germinate or will produce unhealthy seedlings. The flesh of pulpy fruits often becomes soft and changes from green/yellow, to red or blue-purple when ripe.

Cleaning: In a cool dry space, place dry seed capsules in a paper bag secured with string and hang upside down.  Clustered seeds of composite plants such as Asters and Marigolds might benefit from being laid out on newspaper layers and allowed to dry more completely. Remove the chaff and other vegetable matter which may harbor fungal spores which will spread and infect the seeds. Moist seed from fleshy fruit such as tomatoes, or from ornamentals such as Arisaema, should have the mucilage (the wet medium surrounding seed) rinsed off. Place the ripened seed in a sieve and rinse off thoroughly. Spread rinsed seed on layers of newspaper and allow to air dry.

Storage: Only store cleaned and dry seed. The combination of moisture and warmth will cause spoilage. Store seed in paper envelopes or bags to allow them to breathe. Don’t use plastic baggies, which may trap moisture. Keep your seeds in a cool dark dry space. Your refrigerator would work, if you have room, or perhaps a closet or cabinet in a cool room. Clearly label all packets with all pertinent information.

Important: Remember the lower the humidity and temperature in storage, the longer the viability of the stored seed

For more info online: http://theseedsite.co.uk/harvesting.html If you really want the specifics, you need the seed germinating bible. Norman Deno’s book Seed Germination, Theory and Practice can be purchased through the North American Rock Garden Society’s Bookstore.