I never thought to collect my own seeds until my sister showed me how. It was years ago, she was in town visiting and we had decided to take the kids to a local amusement park. The park had several beautiful flower beds with hundreds of perennial flowers in full bloom. She saw a flower that she wanted, took the paper bag from our lunch and snipped several heads of flowers and threw them into the empty paper bag. She explained that she would stick the bag in a cool dry place and when they completely dried shake out the seeds to keep in an envelope until ready to use.
HUH- I had never thought to do that.
I wait for the flower heads to start to dry on the stalk, but before the pods break open, are eaten by birds, or risk of frost. I like to collect the dried seed pods from the plants on a dry sunny day with my chicken escorts by my side. 🙂 I carefully cut or break off the seed heads from the plants with a small paper bag in the other hand to catch any seeds or seed pods that may fall. I keep a pen tucked behind my ear and immediately write the name of the plant. Don’t get to fussy here, just write down what you need to know to remember what is in the bag. A fellow blogger recently posted about her seed collecting and she jokingly commented on how she will be brushing up on some plant identification and learning Latin over the winter. You don’t really need to know the Latin name but you do need to know what you have in the bag. Don’t think you will remember, you won’t! Sounds like I am talking from experience, hmmm?
After collecting the seeds I usually place the paper bags in a cool dry place to dry out completely. Some seeds will dry out faster than others. A lot of this depends on how dry the flower head is when you cut it, so plan accordingly. My seeds were pretty dry so I waited a week, but again it all depends.
When seeds are good and dry I shake the seeds and pods through a mini
screen, or sieve. I give them a gentle “crush or shake” onto the screen and gently
shake and tap the side of the screen over a white or light-colored bowl; similar to how we sift flour for baking.
I like to use a white bowl to make it easier to see seeds. Some will be tiny!
I then place seeds in envelopes. I bought no.1 coin envelopes that are 2 1/4 x 3 1/2″ in size. Labeling is important. Label envelopes with the type, variety, and year you harvested. If you plan on giving seeds away you should also include growing height, width, and conditions (sun, part-shad, shade).
The seed’s success depends on how old it is, and it’s storing conditions. That is not to say that my
seeds have not been stored for more than one year. I have done so. I do try to plant seeds I have
collected right from the previous year for best results in the garden.
Now, how to decide what seeds to collect. The list is endless. Not all flowers will re-seed but most will. You will have to do a little research if you are in doubt. This year I am collecting Oregano, Monarda (bee balm), Echinacea (coneflower), Yarrow, Verbena and Cherry Tomato.
The process to save my cherry tomato seeds is a little more involved.
Take your chosen tomato and slice it in half across the middle. With a spoon scoop out the seeds and their gelatinous “goo” into a clean cup or container. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the seeds. Cover the container with a piece of plastic-wrap and then poke the plastic-wrap with a paring knife to put a small hole in it. A little fresh air needs to get in and out of the cup to help foster fermentation.
Place the container of seeds in a warm location; a sunny windowsill is an excellent. Now the seeds will begin to ferment. This takes about two or three days. Each night remove the plastic-wrap, stir the seed and water mixture, and then replace the plastic-wrap. The top of the liquid will look “scummy” when the fermentation process has separated the “goo” from the seeds. It also helps destroy many of the possible tomato diseases that can be harbored by seeds.
Take the container of fermented seeds to the sink and with a spoon carefully remove the scummy surface. Then pour the container’s contents into a fine kitchen sieve and rinse the seeds with water several times, stir them while they’re in the sieve to assure that all surfaces are thoroughly rinsed. Give a few sharp taps to the sieve to help remove as much water as possible from the seeds.
Line a plate with a piece of waxed paper or heavy-duty paper towels and spread out the rinsed seeds in a single layer. Place the plate in a safe location where the seeds can dry for a few days. Stir the seeds a few times during the drying process to assure that all their surfaces are evenly dry. Spread them out again into a single layer after each time you’ve stirred them. Tomato seeds are thick and can take up to a week to dry thoroughly. Once they are dry store as you would your flower seeds.
Why did I pick the seeds I did to save? My decision was strictly on what I want more of in the garden and what did well with little fuss. The Monarda or bee balm is a great seed to give to friends because it is almost full-proof to re-seed. The Echinacea I chose is a salmon colored variety and is quite stunning, so I hope the seeds will produce the same color.
Which is something to consider. Not all seeds re-bloom the same color as the parent. Again, you will have to do some research to find out if this is the case with your garden blooms. The reason I am harvesting cherry tomato is because the variety I planted is so delicious and I forgot to write down the type. I want to ensure I have the same deliciousness next year. The Verbena has done so well this year, I would love to see more of it blooming around my gardens. The butterflies and hummingbirds would too.