Autumn Harvesting: Collecting & Saving Seeds
I know it sounds really obvious but isn’t collecting seeds a no brainer? I’m ashamed to say I only realised it this year, after years of gardening and managing an allotment. It was my very wise Grandma who also happens to be a brilliant gardener that opened my eyes to the glaringly obvious. She remembers a time when no one had money to buy plants or seeds, they were frugal times where you saved and treasured every last thing that you owned and that included seeds. Now, times have changed and we are generally more wealthy as well as having access to seeds from across the globe, but I believe that through a little bit of community we can bring back the days of the past. The days when neighbours used to share their seeds and cuttings and where people were more in tune with nature and the cyclical changes of the plants in their gardens.
I’ve put together a short guide on how to gather and store seeds, with a few things that I have learnt along the way. I hope it encourages you to head out and find seeds of your own ready for next year.
The top benefits of collecting seeds
· The obvious one, it saves you a shed load of money. To give you a guide, I spent nearly £40 (shocking I know) on seeds last year in order to set up my flower patch, this year I anticipate I’ll spend £10 and that is only to invest in new species. The rest of the seeds will be collected from my cutting patch and garden.
· By collecting seeds from your garden or nearby there is a fair chance that the plants are happy growing where they are. This means almost guaranteed success next year.
· You can start a mini community, share the love, find some like-minded people and connect over your love of seeds and flowers!
Timing is of the essence
This is the tricky part and I have only learnt through trial and error. Basically you need the seeds to be brown and ripe but this is often the point when the plant expels them, so keep a very close eye on them and start picking as soon you feel they are ready. For some seeds you can collect them just before they are ready and they may ripen inside but it’s best to let the plant work its magic on them.
Generally, the best time to harvest is the seeds is when the seed heads and top of the stalks have started to brown. The seeds inside will be hard rather than green and soft.
A few different types of seed heads
The movers and shakers: flowers like poppies fall in this bracket where you only need to brush past them and they seeds fly out. Aquilegia is another example
The party animals: flowers such as vetch and wild sweet peas fall in this to category, where the seeds will literally fly out of the seed pods with force when they are ready.
The wall flowers: not literally! But seed heads from cornflowers are an example of this, as are scabious. They will take a little bit of coaxing to release, so you will need to get know how they look when they are ready
This sounds obvious, but honestly there is nothing worse than getting home with a pocket full of unidentifiable seeds! Pick a dry day when any dew has evaporated and ensure you have a few storage bags or envelopes with you plus a pen to make notes of what you are collecting. Cut the seed heads off with a clean pair of secateurs and place carefully, upside down in to the individual storage envelopes, labelling as you go.
Lay them out to rest
Once you’ve safely got them home. You will need to allow the seed heads to dry out for a few days to ensure they store well. Lay them and any loose seeds out on newspaper or botting paper, labelled of course, in a cool, dry place where they won’t be disturbed. A garage would be fantastic but if this is not practical then anywhere out of reach of the kids!
Once the seed heads have had a few days to dry you will need to gently tease the seeds out. For poppies this isn’t necessary but for cornflowers, I find a twisting motion at the base of the seed head works best, the seeds then tend to slip out. Some seeds need more help than others and unlike professional seed suppliers who supply seeds perfectly clean, for our purposes this isn’t necessary. A little bit of organic matter will only help the seeds next year so don’t spend ages on this.
Take care with storage
When the seeds are ready, pop them into your storage containers and place them in a cool, dry place such as a garage. Some websites will tell you to keep them in the fridge but if you have seen the size of my fridge you will know that this is impossible. The point is, keep them out of extreme temperatures but most importantly from getting to hot.
So there you go, my guide to collecting and storing seeds and saving you a ton of money! I hope you feel inspired to save some of your own and maybe even starting your own seed swap.
With love, Bex