Seed collecting is a great means of increasing the number of desired plants from year to year, as well as perpetuating certain heirloom varieties. It is a relatively easy concept, but it does require a bit of botanical knowledge. There are some pitfalls to collecting whatever seed is set in your garden. Just because a plant sets seed does not mean that its offspring will look anything like it. Many of your favourite annuals, perennials and vegetables are the result of hybridizing programs. The problem is that offspring of hybrid plants can show the characteristics of both parents of that hybrid, and you end up with a very irregular group of offspring with respect to flower colour, size and form. Plant breeding has created many stunning hybrids, but many of these plants are also sterile and will not set seed. So beware! Here are some general guidelines for collecting seed:

  • The easiest seeds to save are from non-hybrid annuals or species; avoid seed from hybrids unless you do not care if the offspring are different from the parents. Avoid collecting from plants that are labelled F1, F2, or that are cultivars.
  • Collect seed from open-pollinated or heirloom plants; they are not the products of hybridization and will result in true-to-form offspring.
  • If a plant is not self-pollinating (male and female parts in the same flower, requiring no outside assistance) and there is a risk of it crossing with another variety of the same species, plant only one variety of that plant to avoid cross-pollination. This is extremely common with squash and melons. More than one type of a plant from the same group can be grown only if enough distance separates them, reducing the risk of hybridizing.
  • Collect seed from ripe fruit, ensuring that the seeds will be fully mature.
  • Consult a reference to see if a plant is appropriate for collecting its seed.
  • Save seeds from heirloom, rare or hard-to-get plants.
Collecting Technique It is imperative to collect seed at the appropriate time. Immature seed will not be viable so it is important to collect seed when it is ripe. Fruit and vegetable seed should be collected when the fruit is at or just past its ripest. Flower seed should be collected when the seed pods are just starting to turn colour and wither. At this point, you'll know that no more energy is being stored in the seed. Some of the easiest vegetable seeds to collect are from beans, peppers, non-hybrid tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash. For flowers, stick to non-hybrid annuals and perennials. Trying to collect seed from the latest hybrid marigold is probably not the wisest use of your time.
Step-by-Step - Pricking Out gardener_3J.jpg 1. Fill cell pack with appropriate potting mix. gardener_3K.jpg 2. Gently remove seedlings from the seeding pot. gardener_3L.jpg 3. Insert seedlings into soil using a small dibble stick to create planting holes, then gently firm the seedlings into place and water lightly.

Once collected, clean, dry and store the seed for use next season. For seed that is encased in pods, simply break the pods and remove the seed. For seeds contained in fleshy fruits, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, it is imperative to remove the flesh from the seed. The seed should be extracted and rinsed of all extraneous tissues. Once cleaned, place the seed on paper, plastic or glass to dry. Remember to be organized, labelling each type of seed as you go. Place the dried seed into small envelopes and store in an airtight container. Silica gel packets can be placed in the container to ensure a dry environment. Keep the container in a cool, dry place, such as a basement or a refrigerator, until the seeds are required for use. An excellent reference book for this subject is Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed (Seed Saver Publications, 1995). It is the seed collector's bible. Pricking-out What do you do with all the seed that you collected come springtime? Try germinating batches of seed in small pots, pricking-out the seedlings once they have sprouted and developed their first set of true leaves. Pricking-out is a simple technique where a pot of germinated seedlings is divided into individual plants, even small clusters of plants, and transplanted into their own cell packs or pots. It gives you the advantage of having absolute control over the progress of your seedlings - much more than if you were to sow seed singularly into pots or directly into the garden. The ability to control the growing environment (temperature, humidity, light levels and watering) will increase the success of germination and subsequent growth. It's a space-conscious method allowing many seeds to be sown at once - with the pricking-out into full flats only upon germination. Having made the effort to save your own seed last summer and fall, it makes sense to give them their best chance at germination. Materials

  • Here's what you need to get started on seed collecting:
  • Bags to collect seed
  • Sieve to rinse/clean fleshy seed
  • Paper, glass or plastic on which to dry seeds
  • Envelopes or bags in which to store seed
  • Indelible pen for labelling
  • Silica gel packets
  • Airtight container for storage
Choice Plants for Seed Collecting
  • Meconopsis betonicifolia (Himalayan blue poppy) - hardy to zone 7
  • Heirloom tomatoes and peas
  • Echinacea purpurea (coneflower) - hardy to zone 3
  • Asarina scandens (climbing snapdragon) - hardy to zone 6
  • Nicotiana langsdorffii and N. sylvestris (tobacco plant) - tender annual/tender perennial
  • Lagurus ovatus (hare's tail) - tender annual
  • Primula denticulata (drumstick primrose) - hardy to zone 2
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