Flowers die back, but not before producing what they are specifically designed to produce – Seeds! This autumn, prepare for your spring and summer garden by harvesting these future plant-makers!
Seed Saving is the perfect way to save money in future years, and you also will be able to perpetuate the plants you love the most. Year to year, nursery’s and greenhouses will stop stocking plants to make room for newer, trendy cultivars, leaving you without some of your favorites! Personally, I really loved and wanted Sunshine Yarrow, a gorgeous, vibrant yellow cultivar of the native yarrow, and when I went to return for another one to add to the other side of the garden to balance it out, the nursery didn’t stock it any more. They only had the new “Strawberry Passion Yarrow”! This was another lovely cultivar, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Seed saving can help prevent this particular challenge!
Some plants are easier to do this with than others.
First off, not all plants have seeds that are ready to harvest when we’d typically think they are. Plants, such as cucumbers, have vegetables and fruits that are picked and eaten before the seeds are mature! We eat these, and maybe try to save the seeds, but won’t be mature unless the vegetable is left to grow a little longer. This typically means that you won’t be able to eat the vegetable! For example, kale needs to bolt and produce flowers before it goes to seed. When many leafy greens, including kale, bolt, the leaves turn very bitter, making them practically inedible. Planting multiples can ensure that you get to enjoy your veggie garden for the food, and be able to leave some to go to seed!
Other plants, such as this Clematis, have very obviously mature seeds. Once the flower dies back, the dry seeds are left behind to be carried by the wind to a new spot to germinate. These already-dried seeds are great to harvest!
Flowers with large, easily visible seeds, such as this clematis, the cosmos (pictured here), milkweeds (pictured below), or sunflowers (seeds in my hand), have seeds that will come off of the plant an into your hand very easily. If you have to tug to get the seed off, then it’s not mature and ready yet! Give it a few days, then return. Other plants, such as the Flower of the Hour (pictured at the very top), have little seed pods, or containers, that break open when mature. If you need to double check if the seeds are ready to harvest, shake the pod. If the seeds rattle around inside, they are ready and often times can just be dumped right into a seed-saving paper pouch.
Vegetable plants that can be great for beginners to harvest from are peas, beans, and pumpkins. In fact, many pumpkins that become autumn decoration, when they are composted, turn into their own little pumpkin patch on their own!
Regardless of the plant, when you harvest the seeds, be sure to be gentle with them! Some seeds, such as lobelia seeds can be extremely tiny, and if dropped can be impossible to find (although, if you drop them out in the garden, hopefully they will germinate when they’re ready!) Others, such as nasturtiums or black walnuts, are very large! and store them properly.
Seeds need to be fully dried before storing, since any excess moisture can create mold growth – and moldy seeds won’t germinate! After you harvest the seeds, keep them on a paper towel in a dark, cool place to finish drying. Then, they can be stored in a paper bag, or seed pouch until you wish to use them. To check if seeds are dried, try to press into them with a fingernail. If the nail leaves an indent, they are still to moist. If not, your seed is dried!
Store various species’ seeds in different, labeled bags so that you don’t confuse them in future seasons. I store my seeds in paper pouches labeled with the date and location of harvest, in a drawer.
If you’re trying to harvest seeds from your garden, that’s great! Those were plants that you put there, took the time and effort to care for, and maintain. Wild plants, on the other hand, are not just for you to enjoy! These wildflowers are important food resources for the native wildlife that rely on the nectar, pollen, seeds, berries, or home they provide.
When harvesting seeds from wildflowers and plants, be sure to:
Looking for other ways to enjoy the garden? Check out my upcoming gardening workshops (virtual presentations are perfect for those who aren’t local!), or visit the shop for botanical art in the form of photo prints or illustrations.