Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Seed Saving - How and Why

Generally speaking, seeds do not cost a whole lot. For good seed stock, you can spend 2$ to 5$ per packet. To do a garden, complete with bushes, flowers and shrubs those packets can all add up. Not to mention that buying seeds from a store or online requires extra packaging and energy in shipping. Of course, you may not have available all of the varieties of seed you wish to have in your own neighborhood, but scouting for seeds is a great place to start. Once you've collected a stash to work with, you can add to it by purchasing the seeds and starts that you were not able to procure.

Almost every plant, whether tree, flower, shrub, grass, fruit or vegetable produces seeds in one way or another. If you are watchful you can see this happening with plants in your area. If you see a plant that is in a public space and you would like to attempt to grow it yourself, you can keep an eye on it to catch it in the process. I know that in my state of Missouri, a conscious effort is being made for native gardening in all of the public parks and along the roadside. Native gardening is extremely beneficial not only for the plants and wild animals in the area, but it costs so much less in the way of maintenance. So for me, I can look for the plants I wish to collect in fall whenever I take my children to the park or on walks.

Clockwise from top: Large, ornamental grass, Pine cone,
Purple Cone Flower, Lilac, Rose hips, Unknown, Hibiscus.
Here are a few of the seeds I collected this year, still in their pods and husks. Some are from native plants and some are from plants that I know to be popular and grow well in my area.

If you don't know the identity of a seed, there are places you can go online to discover what it is. I personally enjoy a bit of herboligic sleuthing in my quest for seeds.

This is a good site for identifying unknown seeds.

Once you have collected your seeds, they will likely come in pods or husks. You'll want to harvest the seeds by carefully removing them. Lay down a sheet of white paper so that you can find them easily. Some seeds will be very tiny and easily lost. You may need tweezers to pluck them out of their cradles. You may need a nut cracker or a sharp razor blade to get into the pods.

If you know the identity of your seeds, you can look up harvesting them. There may be special hints or information that would help you in this. A rose hip, or example is ripe once it turns bright red or yellow and you may want to put on gloves when you open the hip as the fibers inside can cause intense itching for some. Mother Nature is protective of her little ones.

Apart from collecting seeds outdoors, you can also save seeds from fruits and vegetables that you bring home from the market. I have an avocado tree that I grew this way. Peach pits and mango pits can be grown into trees as well, and I've been told you can even start pomegranate, orange and apple seeds. You can even start dried beans and grow them up as green/yellow/wax style beans to eat.

Some seeds you collect will require specialized care. These rose seeds for example, will need to spend a few months in the refrigerator. Clematis seeds need to have a multiple cycles of cold and warmth before they will germinate. This is called stratification.

Some seeds will need to be nicked or scratched up if the hulls are very thick. This is called scarifying. Usually these seeds are meant to be eaten and will go through the acidic process of digestion in order to germinate, so we would recreate the idea with sand paper or a small knife so that water and nutrients can penetrate the hull and germinate the seed.

Others require sitting in water for long periods of time. My avocado pit took a few weeks before a root appeared at the bottom and yet a few more before a stem began growing out of the top.

Now let'ts talk about seed storage. You want to keep them in paper envelopes as they deter moisture and fungus build up. Although your seeds should be fully dry, there will often be a bit of moisture in them and in the air. You can use postal envelopes, but I prefer to make these little packets.
For one thing, they are much more compact and take up less space. For another, the accordion style of the sides allows for bulkier seeds with less risk of stretching and puncturing the paper. I also like that come planting time, they are easily opened to a flat sheet of paper and the seeds won't be stuck in the crevices.

To make a seed envelope is pretty simple.
Using standard 8.5" x 11" printer paper, cut it into a perfect square. Draw two parallel lines in the middle, about 3 inches apart. Draw two more parallel lines an inch from either side. Draw a perpendicular line and inch from the top, and another right in between that line and the bottom of the paper as shown in this photo.

Once you have your paper marked (if you choose to even mark them, you really can just eyeball this), make your folds on lines 1 and 2, OUTWARD. Next, bring line 5 together to line 1, making an INWARD fold as shown in step 3. Do the same on the other side, bringing line 6 over to line 2, making an INWARD fold for step 4.
In my photo, I missed a step. We'll call it step 4.5, where you now fold the paper in half horizontally at the middle line, right where the numbers 3 and 4 are sitting.  You should now have little flappy wings at lines 5 and 6. Fold these inward and if you want, you can secure them with tape. Lastly, once you've placed your seeds inside, fold the flap down at line 7 and tape it shut if you want.

Here is a step by step of this technique, but fold your flaps inward to make an envelope, rather than outward to make a sack.

You'll want to write on the outside of your envelope as to the manner of seed inside and also mark it with the date. Keep your seed packets in a cool, dry place until you're ready for planting (or in the refrigerator if stratification is required).

If you start saving your seeds near the end of summer all the way through fall and into winter, you can have quite an extensive collection after only one season. Packaging them up as shown will not only keep them safe and dry, but they make nifty little holiday gifts for the practical gardener in your life. Happy Hunting!

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