Seed collecting is a huge topic and so many plant varieties out there. First, my disclaimer. I am not an expert on this! As we said at the beginning, this blog is an attempt to take the mystery and fear out of propagation by seed so that even beginners can join in and feel great about their accomplishments.
Each flower and vegetable is unique and requires a little research to find out what to do. Fortunately, today the world is at your fingertips with the internet - the resources are tremendous! Just search: seed collecting, or seed collecting for *** (name your specific flower or vegetable). And don't forget the old fashioned way - check out your personal gardening book library or your public library. Some of my favorites are: Making More Plants by Ken Druse, The Complete Book of Plant Propagation by Clarke & Toogood, The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation by Michael Dirr and Charles Heuser, Jr. and the absolutely necessary Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael A. Dirr.
GCA members have many references available on the GCA webpage, including several excellent articles in The Real Dirt: #2, Fall 2004; #6, Fall 2006; and #27, Summer 2013. These can all be accessed through links on the Horticulture Page. Again, search the internet--the resources there are phenomenal. Click here for a basic quick 2 minute video. Remember, be specific about your plant when you search. In addition here is a site from the WVU Agriculture Extension Page.
From Barbara Tuffli, GCA Vice-Chairman of Seed Share in her Summer 2013 article:
The advantages of seed sharing are numerous. Number one for me is just the plain and simple joy of taking something I have grown, collecting the seed, planting and watching it come full circle. Other advantages are: saved seed will likely produce plants well adapted to your own micro climate; you can grow plants not always available commercially; you can trade with your friends, with your horticulture committee, with your garden club; you can send to Shirley Meniece or participate in other seed sharing groups.
Now some overall basics: (Some repetition from above, but this is a summary)
- Stick to species for flowers. Seeds from hybrids do not always come true and are not always viable.
- Woodland perennials can produce seeds in as short a time as 4-6 weeks, while others are not ready until late summer or fall.
- Check your resources - learn to recognize plants and the signals they give out to show their readiness.
- Carefully scrutinize your plants - sometimes daily, since seeds can ripen almost overnight.
- Allow to ripen on the plant.
- Harvest when ripe and before they have dropped on their own.
- If the seed is encapsulated, the outside cover will turn brown.
- Some species can be picked slightly early, put in a bag and allowed to ripen. Some examples are aster, stokesia, some types of black-eyed Susan, and coneflower. (I know my black-eyed Susans are ready as the goldfinches have been sitting on the tops of the flower heads eating away. There will be more seeds ripening later for me to gather.)
- Ripe seed is identifiable when the outer coating is somewhat hard to hard, and its color becomes (usually) tan, black or brown.
- On some of your perennials you may tie nylon or cheesecloth around the developing seed head. As the seeds ripen, they will fall into the cheesecloth, making an easy harvest.
When you are read to collect, gather your supplies first: small envelopes, baggies, scissors, pen and labels if needed. Collect on a dry day. Clip the seed pods and put in your baggie or envelope. Be sure and note the date collected and the species. Once you get all those pods inside, it is very easy to forget which one is which if you don't take notes!
There are 3 basic types of seeds: Dry; Fleshy Fruits; and Fleshy Fruits with Hard Fruit Walls.
For Dry Seeds: Collect your seed heads. One method is to put them into a manila folder and fold the folder in half. Press on the folder to release the seeds. Open and pour through a sieve to separate the chaff from the seed. The chaff and heads stay in the sieve and the small seeds fall through. It is very helpful to put white paper underneath in order to see the seeds. Some heads may need to be crushed again to release the seed - a rolling pin is a good item to use. When you share your seeds, it is really nice to have clean seeds. (Most of your wildflowers & perennials)
For Fleshy Fruits: Put the fleshy fruit in a sieve under running water. Mash with a wooden spoon to separate the seeds from the flesh. Scoop out the seeds. Rinse lightly with detergent. Put on a paper towel and dry thoroughly. (Examples: apples, pears, blueberry, rose hips,
For Fleshy Fruits with Hard Fruit Walls: Soak the seed several hours, then drain. Cover with paper and smash. Scrape, rinse and add water to get the pulp off. (Examples are stone fruits like peaches and olives)
(Again, the above is a primer - do your research as the list is exhausting!)
An excellent online research article is from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center titled Seed Collecting and Storage. And somehow, during an Internet search for photos of actual seeds showing their size I found this great Seeds site. Seeds is a Flickr photo album site with hundreds of seeds artfully arranged around a dime in each photo giving you the true size of almost any seed you would want to find.
All seeds after collection need to dry for several days in a cool, warm, well ventilated place. If you live in a very humid climate it may not be the best thing to put them outside as you do not want to store moldy seeds! Then put in brown manila envelopes (small coin envelopes are great). Keep collected seeds cool. Do not put in the freezer. Seeds may be stored up to a year. Be sure and label with the date and name of your species. If something requires special attention, such as a long stratification period or scarification, be sure and note it.
This post will be our general post on seed collecting. There will a second seed collection post where we will share our individual stories of collecting seeds. These will be seed share stories on plants that are not already being included in our journals. Please continue to follow our journals for the full cycle on tomatoes, poppies, hyacinth beans, amsonia, cleome and others. For specific instructions on harvesting tomato seeds, check out both our Brandywine Pink page and the WV63 page. Photos will be posted on both those pages.