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Seed Collecting

Question:

I want to start collecting and saving seeds from my garden. I'm looking for information about how to collect seeds from flowers. Do all flowering plants produce seeds for collecting?

Answer:

Seed gathering is a fun gardening activity with a time honored past. Before seed companies and nurseries made it more convenient to buy packets of seeds and flats of ready grown plants, farmers and gardeners relied on collecting and saving their own seeds for the following year's crops. I recall my parents and grandparents collecting seeds from their flower and vegetables, not only to be frugal, but to make sure they had seeds for the varieties that they liked to grow.

Since those early times plant breeders have created all kinds of new hybrid varieties, which makes modern day seed saving a little more challenging for the home gardener. Here's why. Hybrid plants often produce seeds that either won't germinate or the resulting plants don't have the same characteristics as their parents. So when you purchase seeds to get your garden started be sure they are from plants that are an open pollinated variety. How do you know? There are several seed companies that sell open pollinated flowers. Also, many companies have varieties they categorize as heritage or an old fashioned favorite. Those flowers are usually a safe bet.

Seed Producing Flower Choices

Bachelor's Button
Calendula
Corn Poppy
Cosmos
Globe Amaranth
Hyacinth Bean Vine
Larkspur
Marigold
Moonflower
Morning Glory
Nicotiana
Poppy
Zinnia

Selecting and Collecting

Gather them from the best plants. Tie a piece of bright yarn on the plants that have the height, color, bloom size or disease resistance qualities you prefer. The string will help remind you not to remove the fading blooms.

Blooms need to fade and dry on the plant so the seeds can develop and mature. Let the seed heads or pods dry out as much as possible on the plant before collecting them. Keep an eye on them. If the seed pods start to break open or a heavy rain is predicted, go ahead and harvest them.

Seed collecting should be done on a sunny day, after the morning dew has dried. How you harvest depends on the plant. Some seeds like nicotiana (flowering tobacco) will fall into your hand if you gently shake the stem. Others like zinnias and marigolds take some gentle pulling to extract the seeds from the flower head. Plants such as hyacinth bean vine have seeds that need to be manually removed from the pod. So depending on the type of seeds you are collecting, you can either shake them in to a paper bag or envelope, or if you are gathering flower heads and seed pods, place a sheet or some newspapers on the ground in front of the flowers so you can prune and toss them on the sheet as you go. The important thing at this point is to label the seeds and keep the varieties separate from each other, unless you plan on creating your own mixture of seeds.

Drying and Storing Seeds

Before you store your seeds, make sure they are completely dry. Scatter them out in a ventilated box or container and put it in a warm, dry spot. If you keep the box outside, make sure it is protected from the wind, rain and birds. Try sandwiching the seeds between two old window screens to keep them in place. If you have the room, your best bet is to keep them indoors when it looks like it will take a few days to dry them completely.

Once dried, store your seeds in an air tight container such as a glass jar with a tight fitting lid, a plastic storage container or a zipper style plastic bag. Label each container with the plant's name and the date and year it was collected. Then store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place until you are ready to use them.

Some gardeners add a little packet of silica gel (such as those included in the package with new electronics or leather goods) to make doubly sure the seeds stay dry. If you don't have those on hand, make your own using a spoonful of dry milk powder in a piece of paper towel secured with a rubber band.

Test Your Seeds Before Planting

When you are ready to plant the seeds, you can test them for germination to find out how many seeds you can expect to grow. Take a small sampling of the seeds, place them on a barely damp paper towel and fold it in half over the seeds. Slip the towel into a sealed plastic bag or enclose it in plastic wrap to keep the towel from drying out. Label the package with the seed's name and date and set it in a relatively warm place (70 to 75 degrees) such as the top of your refrigerator or on a high shelf. Avoid putting it in direct sun as the seeds could overheat. Check the towel daily to see if the seeds absorb the water and swell. If the towel dries out, mist it lightly. A majority of the seeds usually sprout within a few days, however some varieties take longer. When the germination stops and no more seeds have sprouted for a few days, that will give you an idea of the germination rate you can expect from that batch of seeds.