IN THE GARDEN: The benefit of collecting seeds
Several readers have wanted to know how to collect seeds and when is the best time to do so. Over the years friends have given me seed, and it was not until a couple of years ago that I became interested in collecting seed and using this seed in my garden. Well worth the effort, seed collecting is one of my favorite pastimes in the fall. Here are some suggestions to consider when wanting to collect seed yourself for further use in your garden.
Knowing when to harvest mature seed is one of the most important considerations. You should harvest seeds from the best specimens you find and on a warm, sunny day. You want to avoid gathering seed that is damp because of the possibility of mold forming. Once the seed pods turn from green to brown it is a perfect time to collect.
When collecting seed it is helpful to carry an envelope or paper bag to put your seed pods in. It’s very important to write the name of the plant on the envelope right away or believe me you can forget and be surprised later. Once you have gathered your seeds, spread them out on a paper towel or newspaper to dry. This process can take several days. Never collect and keep your seeds in plastic bags as they will spoil. The key here is keeping your seeds dry.
Use sharp, clean gardening tools to cut off your seed head specimen. You can clean your tools with 10 percent bleach from a spray bottle before you head out to gather. Let your tool dry after spaying on the bleach solution.
The hardest part for me is looking at a dry, dead seed flower head for a couple of weeks in order to gather mature seed. Another challenge that can happen is that a strong wind can come along and blow the seeds out of the pod before they can be collected. A small paper bag can be placed around the seed head and fastened with a string or rubber band and catch the seed before it falls to the ground. Birds also take seeds from the plant. These little creatures can have all of the seeds they want in my yard; however, this is one of the ways you find your plants in unusual areas of your landscape far from their original growing area. So fun to find these volunteers that pop up to surprise us.
Storing seed for its optimal performance is important for later use and viability. Seed should be stored in a cool (40 degrees), dark, dry spot. Several friends store their seeds in small refrigerators or in their cool garages. You do not want your seed to freeze or get wet. After my seed is completely dry, I store my seed in small glass saved spice bottles and label them with the name and date gathered.
Not all seed can be planted in Alaska outdoors in the fall. Some annual plant seeds have to be started in pots inside and would freeze and die if planted outside. All plants require warmth to get growing and some would struggle to make it to maturity and bloom in our short season. It is a good idea to look up your particular plant seed and investigate how to care for and under what conditions your seed will germinate and what are its needs when planted.
Some seeds need light to germinate and are simply tossed out in the garden in the fall to go through what is called cold stratification. Cold stratification is a process of treating seeds to simulate natural conditions that seeds must experience before germination or growth of the plant occurs. This method is similar to how nature reproduces the plant naturally.
By spreading the seed yourself, you determine where this plant will grow. Avoid saving seeds from plants that are hybrids. These seeds do not always come true as they are inferior to the parents. Always choose the best plant to gather seed from.
Gathering and storing seeds is a fun and economical way for a new gardener to get started. This happened to me as a friend who had gathered seed brought it to our new house and helped me get my garden started. In the past I would just pick up seed at the store and not even think about gathering seed of my own.
Seeds are said to be best used in one year, but some can be stored longer and germinate just fine. This year I planted tomato seeds from a 2012 package that was given to me and those plants are to the ceiling of my greenhouse with lots of delicious tomatoes. One way to test viability of seed when you are ready to use it is to place your seed on a wet paper towel that is wrung out and folded over and place in a plastic bag at room temperature. If the seed is viable it will sprout and be ready for planting.
After the gathering of the seed and the proper storage and conditioning of the seed for planting patience is required to watch and wait for the magic to happen as the new little plant or flowers take shape. It is really about faith and believing in tomorrow. Growing from seed is so fun and empowering. Share the experience with a child and teach these up and coming gardeners the joys of gardening from the ground up. Happy seed gathering!
Chris Wood is president of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club. Email her at [email protected]