As well as noticing more bugs and slugs in the veg garden as the season revolves round into autumn, I'm also watching out for seeds. Some will be saved for sowing next year, others have food uses.
Cerinthe, orache, sunflower and nasturtium plants are the ones in my garden to look out for as they are all prolific self seeders. If the seeds are not collected, they'll scatter into the soil and pop up goodness knows where. (As I found with my nasturtiums and sunflowers this year.) Earlier this year I had to relocate dozens of tiny red orache plants that had self-sown from one underdeveloped plant plonked into the soil last summer. I also bought one cerinthe seedling from Perch Hill Farm in Easter 2010 and collected the seed at the end of the summer; this provided enough seed for another 2 dozen plants this year.
Cerinthe seeds are very easy to collect as they're so obvious. Two large black seeds sit in the leaf bracts where the flowers were. Here's the flower:
and here's the seeds:
When they're ready, you can just pick them off. That will be a job for this week. I won't be able to collect them all, scars in some of the bracts show that a few have already been shaken off by recent windy weather!
I've also grown fennel in my herb bed for the last two years - the leaves are lovely in salads and sauces if you like the taste of aniseed but are best cut before the plant flowers. A couple of weeks ago, I needed fennel seeds for a sauce and there they were, practically on my doorstep. They worked perfectly so I'm now going to cut the rest of the seeds for use in the kitchen; the main plant can be propagated from side roots separated from the main tap root. The way to collect fennel seed is to cut the whole head then suspend it upside down in a paper bag although if the seeds are already fairly dry, make a paper funnel and brush them into this.
I've read that fennel can be quite invasive - a bit like bamboo - but apparently makes a poor companion plant for other herbs so perhaps I've been spared the invasion by growing it in the middle of my herb bed! It's also worth knowing that whilst aphids find fennel thoroughly unpleasant, ladybirds, hoverflies and other beneficial bugs love it.
The other seed that I'll be saving, although not for myself, is the sunflower seed. Last year I left the heads for the birds but as that encouraged a bit of random propagation, I'm cutting the smaller flowers when they've gone brown and removing the heads for seed and drying the stems because I'm hoping these will make good pea sticks next year. The bigger heads will be cut and suspended as a sunflower perch, as illustrated in Dave Hamilton's book 'Grow your food for free (well, almost)'.
Other seeds I may be able to collect are nigella (love in a mist), calendula (marigold), poppy, hollyhock, wallflowers and nicotiana. I've passed a magnificent nicotiana plant on my walk over to the heath, I may have to find the courage to ask the owners for seedhead in due course!
I wonder what seeds other people are saving?