25 Sep 2011

Seed saving

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:

Cerinthe purple

and here's the seeds:

Cerinthe seedhead

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.

Fennel seedhead

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.

Sunflower seedheads drying

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?

9 comments:

  1. Good for you, it's always worth saving seed.
    I save lots including aquilegia, poppy, pot marigold, sweet pea, nasturtium, love-in-a-mist, cosmos and various others.
    A good site all about seeds which I find really helpful is The Seed Site which is listed under Plot People on my blog. Flighty xx

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  2. Thanks for pointing out the seed site Flighty, I'll probably bookmark it or add it to my sidebar. I was hoping to save seed from my sweet peas but the pods didn't ripen enough so I'll have to buy again next year - at least I can try a different variety! You've also reminded me how much I like aquilegias - one for next year's list, I think! Caro xx

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  3. I don't save many seeds, but one which I saved last year and have done so again this year is my Tangella tomato. It's my favourite tomato and I had 100% germination from my saved seeds this year. Hope you have success with your saved seeds too.

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  4. I noticed Carol Klein was doing a bit of seed saving as well on GW. So far I have collected sweet peas, sweet williams, sunflower, marigold and cosmos whether I need them or not - it's a sort of compulsion, the hunter-gatherer in me I suppose.

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  5. Jo, I remember reading about your Tangella tomato and thinking how lovely it looked. I haven't loved my tomatoes enough this year to seed save, and I'll be trying new varieties next year.

    Elaine, I've yet to see GW this week - one to watch when tackling the ironing! - but I like the way Carol Klein explains everything so well. Sounds like you'll be busy sowing seeds next year and I think I may have to grab a few seeds from my giant multi-headed sunflower instead of putting all out for the birds.

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  6. Fantastic idea.

    We are currently allowing some beans to dry for seeds and we are also going to be saving the seeds from our tomatoes for next year!

    Martin

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  7. Good work Martin! I love a bit of seed saving, if the seeds germinate you have plants for free and some to give to friends. I still have plenty of bean and tomato seeds from this year but I'm now gathering seed pods from hollyhocks, cosmos and other flowers when I see them in the neighbourhood!

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  8. I'm an addict seed saver and have little brown envelope everywhere containing my saved seeds. Cerinthe is my big favourite and I have given the seeds to so many people who have never known this fantastic plant before. I have dozens of Cerinthe plants that have self seeded during the last couple of months and one even survived last year right through that terrible winter and still flowered in the spring.

    I also pinch off seed heads that I see around on walks anywhere, well they would only fall off anyway !!!!

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  9. Maureen, I didn't know that Cerinthe could carry on - I thought it naturally died back in the autumn and sprung up again from dropped seeds, just like my Red Orache which I have to watch out for in the spring and repot! Nice to know another cerinthe enthusiast!

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Caro x

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