The Joy of Harvesting Seeds.
Every year Tomales holds a farm and flea market and people turn out to buy and sell anything and everything, from old farming implements (always popular) to, literally, kitchen sinks! People sell jewelry and plants, plates and skirts and last year I bought a djembe.
This year I decided to move away from selling hotdogs at the church stand and, instead, sell some of the seeds I harvest from my garden each year.
So I got busy and started eyeing out which flowers would produce enough seed for me and by far the most prolific were my poppies. I marked the pods according to color and ended up with black, white, red, single and double purple. When I wasn’t sure, I marked the pods black and white. When it came time to harvest, however, I discovered that it’s very easy to tell the black and white flowers apart as the seeds of the black poppies are black and the seeds of the white poppies are pale brown.
Harvesting seeds is a pleasurable pursuit. I love tipping poppy pods upside down and having hundreds of tiny seeds filling my cupped palm. I love reaching out to dry cosmos heads, pinching off the long seeds in a neat, crackly bunch. Belladonna seeds shine like pearls and scabious seeds remind me of grass skirts.
You can harvest seed heads, like scabious, and just let them dry out and come apart on their own in a bowl or a paper bag or you can empty the pods like salpiglossis straight away. Arum lily seeds are covered in flesh and I usually strip the flesh before drying the minute little pinballs inside. Lily seeds fly away unless you open the bursting pods in a bowl or envelope. Portulaca seeds are downright fiddly because their pods are so small, but their jewel – colored flowers make it worthwhile.
The trick to harvesting seeds is to wait until they’re ready. They should be fit to burst or they’ll be wet and difficult to get out of their pods or off their heads.Pick them on a dry day and let them totally dry out in bowls before you put them into packets, otherwise they could get some fungal lurgy. Fish out any seed – munching insects that have fallen into your bowl along with the seeds, like the earwig I found in my latest batch of cosmos seed this afternoon.
Annual seeds are usually plentiful and the tiny ones come up where they fall. Bigger seeds have to be planted in the ground but are easy to grow. Seeds from perennials are also easy to grow but lily seeds and Belladonna seeds take a few years to flower. I have a massive, unknown seed that started sprouting on my kitchen counter after I picked it up in my courtyard, and I’m not sure which way to plant it! Is that the stem or is that the root?
Seed trays produce mixed results but I’m addicted to the process and do it every year. This year I got impatient and planted too early, even though I used heated trays. I planted again in early spring and had some wonderful results: loads of poppies, cosmos, portulacas and, of course, sweet peas. I have a ton of baby foxgloves, yet to bloom, but also have baby belladonna lilies and they bring out the mother in me and I’ll cluck over them for a couple of seasons.
Some seeds take more nuturing if they’re not from their ideal area. I’ve managed to germinate some Russell lupins and keep them alive all summer, and I’m about to take them inside for the winter, anticipating some fantastic flowers next year.
I also bought some Himalayan poppy seeds from someone online last season and put them in the fridge for a month or so and then planted them out tenderly but, alas, was conned and they turned out to be red poppies instead of blue. I’m determined to get some growing in my garden some day! I might have to visit Portland to see them growing in the meantime. But there’s nothing quite like watching your seeds grow into vibrant, gorgeous plants, watching the bees fertilize them in the summer and then harvesting seeds again for the next season.
Whether I’ll turn my harvest into gold at the farm and flea market remains to be seen, but I’ve kept enough seeds to ensure my own treasure next spring.
This book, The Shoestring Gardener, shows you how to grow a vegetable garden from collected seeds and cuttings, along with other money saving tips. Let me know if you have any other tips about seeds collection and storage in the comments below. Happy seed collecting!
By the way, here is a link to a list of gopher resistant plants: http://www.groundcoversandgardening.com/gopher resistant plants.
If you want to buy plants that deer probably won’t eat, look here.
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