It’s that time of year where we can look at so many things to do with our gardens. As hot and dry as its been, I’m ready to compost the summer vegetables and seasonal annual plants and more so ready to put the gardens to bed. Not the case just yet and the typical maintenance continues, weeding, watering, cutting seed stalks from plants to reduce unwanted dispersal and more. This time of year brings one of my favorite tasks; it is a great time to collect, clean, store or scatter seeds.
Have you ever thought about saving seeds on your favorite tomato? With home gardening on the rise, many varieties are readily available through the purchase of plants or seeds. Think of how easy it could be to save your own seeds. Though, if growing more than one variety within proximity to each other, cross pollination could occur giving you unknown results. If tomatoes have been growing with great distances from one to another, simply save a fruit specifically for the seeds. Extract the seeds and place them on a napkin for a few days to let the juices and flesh ferment the seeds. This fermentation helps with the seed germination process later on. Once the seeds have dried, the seed and dry napkin can be folded up, placed in a sealed plastic baggie and stored in the bottom drawers of the refrigerator.
I also like to save annual plant species like the two forms of tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica and Gomphocarpus physocarpus. These pose a challenge since the seeds are attached to silky hairs, but I save them because I don’t get a lot of return if seeds disperse to the ground on their own. It’s best to store the seeds and sow them in pots in the late winter to transplant to the garden once frost has passed. This is also an opportunity to share seeds and extra plants via the spring plant sale, wink, wink. Some years, you fall in love with certain annual plants but the feeling of not knowing if you’ll find it again could arise. Outstanding performers this summer were the Gomphrena or globe amaranth, and the Emilia coccinea or tassle flower. I’ve already started collecting seeds which will be placed in a brown paper bag to dry, sorted in the coming weeks, divided into little baggies which will then be taken to the annual seed swap, shared with many groups throughout the winter and will be for sale in the gift shop at the first of the year. Be sure to look for the 9th annual Seed Swap at Old Salem next January or February in time for National Seed Swap Day.
Seeds that were saved early waiting to be scattered were the poppies and larkspur. Typically, seeds would have been dispersed by mother nature, in this case, seeds will be scattered in other parts of the garden. Stalks of seeds have been sitting upside down in brown paper bags and kept in a dark, cool place for the summer. Now that fall is near, early spring flowers is best scattered now in preparations for a spectacular season.
We love sharing seeds of hardy perennials and bulb species too. Lilium henry is a favorite with its pumpkin orange flowers held upside down on 5-6 foot talk stalks. Petals recurve while pollinators get excited for food. Lilium formosanum can get out of hand as stalks produce thousands of viable seeds. Therefore, remove seed stalks before pods split but place the pods in a brown paper bag so that the contained pods split, disperse with the seeds collected at the bottom of the bag.
Don’t forget to label your seeds when collecting. Begin getting your supplies ready, brown paper bags allow seeds to disperse and collect, napkins dry seeds faster when there’s evidence of juice or flesh then, plastic bags or even pill bottles are sufficient for seed storage. A paper envelope is not as this will allow air to come through or excess moisture to escape. It is always best to place seeds in the refrigerator and not the freezer. Seeds can be stored up to ten years as long as the light and temperatures remain the same. Lastly, a lot of debris can find their way when seeds dehisce, a hand-held strainer comes in handy. Pour the seeds in the strainer to sift out the debris and allow the seeds to fall through the mesh to collect.