Seed saving season in the garden is underway and I thought I'd share
some tips that I find useful when trying to save seeds for next year. The
first thing I'd recommend for a new frugal gardener to do is start an
Emergency Seed Saving Kit. You can place this kit in the glove
compartment of your car, your purse or backpack.
1. One large freezer bag
2. Small pair of scissors or pocketknife.
3. Fine point Sharpie (or similar pen) to write.
4. Small notepad.
5. Napkins, you probably have tons of them from visits to the drive-thru. Half-sheets of newsprint work just fine.
6. Digital camera (optional).
Place all of the supplies in your Emergency Seed Saving Kit inside the
large freezer bag and keep it with you at all times during seed saving
season. You never know when you're on a walk or drive when you'll come
across a bunch of seeds you'd like to save and start in your garden.
Use the scissors or (pocketknife) to cut off dried seed heads without
damaging the stalks of plants. Place the seed head inside a napkin and
roll it tightly and if you know the name of the flower write it on the
napkin with your Sharpie. I find it very hard to write on napkins on
the run so I recommend using a Sharpie or similar type of "marker" pen
where the ink "bleeds" out without the need to apply pressure.
you've collected the seed head and made note of the name, place it
inside of your Emergency Seed Saving Kit and proceed. Placing the
rolled up seed pod in the napkin is very important. Nothing worse than
doing a load of laundry and remembering later that you had seeds in
If you're new to gardening or are unfamiliar with
the flower from which you collected seeds, get a small notepad-- for
field notes--one from the dollar store that fits in the palm of your
hand is perfect. write down as much information about the seed pod in question in
your notepad. What color was the flower? How tall was the flower stalk?
What do the leaves look like, what shape are they? how long are the
leaves? what color were they? Were they shiny? Soft or coarse? Nothing
worse than trying to guess the ID of a flower from the vague
recollections of a new seed saver on a gardening message board.
found this plant that my grandma used to grow when I was a kid and I
want to grow it in my garden. I saw some in a ditch and I saved the
seeds, can you tell me the name of it? I think the flowers were yellow.
She called them 'forever flower.' PLEASE HELP, it reminds me of my nana
and I miss her. :-( Signed, NewGreenThumbGirl85"
If you can't
take a picture make the best sketch you can of the plant, leaves,
flower and seed pod in your notepad. You can scan it into your computer
or take a photo of it when you get home and upload it to the message
board. Your drawing skills may be lacking but they're better than
nothing, trust me.
Processing Your Seeds at Home.
you're home with your seed bounty set it out to dry. Take a paper plate
and write down the name or notes from your notepad on the paper plate
and spread out your seeds or seed pods to dry. I like to cut open paper
bags (see photo above) since I don't buy disposable plates and set them out on a table
near the window to dry for a period of a few days to a couple of weeks.
If you live with people who think that kitchen counters and dinner
tables are for eating and socializing or with pets use junk mail
Give them a shake every day to keep the seeds or
pods from sticking together. Using paper is important because it can
wick up moisture in seed pods and seeds. Moisture is your seed saving
enemy, seeds and seed pods can and will get moldy if stored in plastic
before they're 100% dry.
Ethical Seed Saving.
lived this long guided by your own moral compass so I won't tell you
where you can't or can't collect seeds from outside your garden. The
following is just what I think. Your mileage will vary.
Places I've collected seeds from:
Public planters: Yes.
parks: Yes, kinda, well...sorta. I wouldn't collect seeds from a park
like The Lurie Garden or a nature preserve, but I'd be all over a seed
pod in Grant Park.
Garden centers & nurseries: No. Kinda,
well...sorta. I'm not saying a seed pod has never somehow managed to
fall from a plant and land in the pot of a plant I was buying, but you
could get in trouble.
Private gardens: Yes, if you ask first.
Gardeners are generous and if you just take a moment to knock on a door
and strike up a conversation with a gardener-- you just may walk away
with those seeds you're lusting after. Also, if the seed pod is hanging
over on the sidewalk I consider it fair game. All but one of my Hostas have come
from seed pods that hung out into the sidewalks around my neighborhood,
all of them.
Landscapings: The plants used in landscaping; parking
lots, banks, restaurants strip malls and restaurants are usually very
common. That doesn't mean I'm above collecting seeds from them and
growing them myself.
Taking seeds from plants you didn't buy is
a sensitive subject for many gardeners because this is theft. Try to be
mindful of where you take seeds and pods from, and always remove the
seed pod or seeds in a way that doesn't hurt the plant. Don't pull on a
seed pod or stem, instead make a clean cut with a small knife or
scissors. Pulling on a stem will usually result in the whole plant
being lifted out of the ground and can lead to the plant dying. I've
lost all of the coneflowers that were originally planted along my fence
because people pulled on the flower or seed pod. Had they just asked, I
would've shared the seeds.
What do the Seeds Look Like?
Depending on the plant the seeds can be easy to spot or they can be a pain. Composite flowers like the Rudbekia pictured here are a bit of a pain. They are actually lots of tiny flowers clustered together to form one "flower." When the flower petals fall they leave behind these cones and there is usually one seed inside each chamber. You can tap the cone into the palm of your hand and seeds may fall out. I like to just collect the whole cone and dry it, then break it apart by crushing it in my palm and scattering the whole thing in the garden. It isn't worth my time to sit there and remove all those seeds from the chaff. On the other hand you'll have some flowers like the daylily with a single pod than when ripe will split open revealing several larger-sized seeds, which are easy to identify.
I'll probably do a separate post on storing the seeds. Stay tuned.