A Seedy Situation
Collecting seeds is one of the most mindful activities that I do. Spending a bit of time snipping dried pods as the last days of summer draw to a close is like putting a full stop on the season and preparing myself for the cooler days ahead. It's this kind of mindful living that I strive for - not easy in the chaotic and busy world that we live in. At the moment New Zealand is on Lockdown to try and flatten the curve of the Covid-19 disease. To live in the moment is the best way to deal with uncertainty. Thinking too far ahead can lead you down a rabbit hole of dread and fear which isn't useful or healthy. So pop outside and see what you have in the garden. Vegetables and herbs will also be setting seed now and will be ripe for collecting.
Autumn is the traditional time for seed collecting as summer blooms fade but you can save seed throughout the year as flowers finish and set seed. Don't be too hasty to keep a tidy garden otherwise you'll miss lots of opportunity to save seeds. Allow flowers to create a seed pod and let those last blooms linger to provide food for bees and insects. It's best to choose a sunny day for seed collecting. Avoid first thing in the morning when dew might still be on your plants. You want everything to be bone dry otherwise your seeds might be subject to rot or fungal issues.
Always carry a pen, snips and a variety of old envelopes or paper bags when you set out. Make sure you write the name of the variety on the bag because otherwise you will probably forget. I also write the date on the bag or envelope too. While seeds can last a good two to three years you will get a better germination rate with fresh seed. This is really evident with tricky varieties like Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) which needs to be super fresh to germinate (and even then it's pretty sporadic).
Another top tip is to choose the very best quality seeds that you have. If you are choosing to save sweet pea seeds for example that you have enjoyed and picked all summer long you may only be left with some small specimens that are a shadow of their earlier siblings. If you save their seed you will be saving an inferior seed. Therefore it's best to save a few of your earliest blooms when they are at their absolute peak, let them go to seed and save these ones to ensure more quality blooms. To do this I put a tag on one stem and leave those ones to bloom and pick from all the others. Once it's seed pods have formed I save them. Obviously if you don't pick your sweet peas too hard then they'll be fine to use once pods have formed.
Once you have collected your seed you might find a lot of chaff is mixed in with the seed. This is just plant material that falls off or out of the dry plant as you collect the seed. It's a good idea to separate the seed from the chaff as much as you can because it can harbour pests and disease. You may find lots of insects running around as you sort your seed so it's a job to do outside! Keep those insects out of your seed packets too as they can cause mischief. Once your seed is safely stored in a labelled bag it will need to be stored in a cool, dark and dry place.
They are the main points for seed saving. See how easy it is? I'll go through a few examples of seeds that I save to give you an idea of how to find the seed. Some are easier than others. If you are a complete seed saving beginner I'd recommend starting with nigella, poppies, sweet william and larkspur. These will all form pods when the flowers have finished. As they dry completely you will notice tiny holes appear in the top of the pod. Simply snip off the pod and tip upside down into your envelope or bag. The seeds will just tumble out in a very satisfying manner! For other ways of seed saving read on.
Moluccella laevis (Bells of Ireland)
Saving the seed of Bells of Ireland is akin to witnessing a mini miracle. Dramatic? Maybe! Let me explain further. Each bract on the bells of Ireland contain four seeds. You will need to be very careful when handling these plants because there are spikes beneath each bract and they are very sharp. Peel open the bell and you will find a circle of seeds. The amazing thing is that you can break this circle up into four distinct triangular seeds. It's like a little pie. A natural wonder. Saving seeds from this variety will really increase your chances of germination as it's best sown fresh.
You might be forgiven for wondering where on earth the zinnia seeds are when you look at the flower. They have been very cleverly engineered indeed because their seeds are found on the end of the petals. Simply wait until the petals brown off then gently pull a petal and you will see the little arrow shaped seed. Trim the petal to just leave the seed. you can always trim the petals first if you're saving lots of seed to save a bit of time. I should mention that zinnias may not grow true to type. This means they may not look identical to their parent. Make sure you only select seed from the best zinnias. I grow the Queen Lime series and these are notorious for throwing out strange variations so unless you like these variations don't save them!
The scabiosa flower makes the prettiest seed pods. It's quite amazing how such a delicate flower can produce such fat, sturdy pods. Each pod is made up of many, many seeds and they can be easily extracted once fully dry. Just use your fingernail to prise them off. The scabiosa in the photo is the Black Knight variety. The Scabiosa starball variety seeds look just like mini shuttlecocks.
The biggest problem saving strawflower seeds are the ants! Ants love strawflowers so don't be surprised to see these little critters running for their life as you start saving the seed. I snip off a few blooms once the flower has lost all it's colour and has developed a fluffy centre. I then pull the fluff away (you may see tiny brown seeds attached to the fluff) and then tip the seeds out from the centre of the flower.
Carthamus will go completely brown when it's ready for seed collection. It's then just a case of breaking open the pod that was once the flower. You will have a crumble of chaff but look closer and you will see the seeds. You should get a few per pod.
Enjoy taking time out to save seeds. I encourage you to experiment with the varieties you save. You'll be surprised how many seeds a flower can contain. The only flower that has evaded me is Statice. I haven't been able to save seed form this flower. Perhaps it's the variety I grow? Perhaps I'm looking for the seeds at the wrong time. Let me know if you can help me with this :)