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Seed Saving: 6 Steps to Successfully Collecting Heirloom Flower Seeds

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Seed saving is a time-honored activity that truly builds strong community roots and ensures future plant diversity. Whether you want to spread the beauty of annual flowers around your own garden, or share them with friends, family and neighbors, learning how to collect and store flower seeds is a valuable skill that allows a gardener to truly appreciate the life-cycle of a plant. Seed saving is a cost-free, light gardening activity that kids love to join in on, so gather the troops and pass on the heritage of heirloom seeds.

When learning how to save seeds it’s important to become acquainted with the lifecycle of a flower to help you identify when the seeds are ripe for harvest. Flowers produce seeds in either pods or seed heads. Pods, such as those produced by sweet peas, are ready to harvest when the pod turns dry and brittle, often containing black or red seeds. Poppies and Love-in-a-Mist also produce their seeds in pods that resemble saltshakers, and should be harvested when the pods snap off the stem. If the pods are green, it is too early to harvest seed. Other flowers, such as cosmos and zinnias, produce seed heads, which are most often harvested by feel. If the seed head falls apart when rubbed between the hands, it is ready for harvest. Seed heads will also turn from green to brown when they are ripe.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Use large stainless steel bowls or old yogurt tubs to gather seeds into. Most flowers are easily tipped over and the seeds can be shaken into the bowl. Other seed heads will have to be clipped or pulled off the stem and then gathered into your container. Envelopes also work well for seeds that don’t shake out easily but need to be picked, such as marigolds and minardas. Make sure to never harvest wet seeds. Pick a dry day to harvest, and do so after morning dew has evaporated. Try not to water an area that you want to harvest from for at least five days before harvesting.

Seeds don’t always have to be removed from pods before drying them, especially if it makes them easier to lay them on a rack or tray. Dry the seeds on a tightly woven rack or tray (needs to be an organic material that breathes) in a well-ventilated room and out of direct sunlight. Spread the seeds thinly so that they dry quickly and no mold develops. Most flower seeds dry in two to six weeks, depending on the size of the seed and the heat and humidity of the drying environment. Make sure to label all your seed drying trays to avoid any mix up.

Cleaning seeds is easiest to do after the seeds have dried completely. Using a large and shallow stainless steel bowl, and smaller stainless mixing bowl and a fan set up outside. Start by loosening the chaff off the seeds with your hands. Place the bowls in front of the fan, turn the fan on and take a handful of the seeds and gently let them fall into the smaller stainless bowl. The fan will blow the light chaff out and the heavier seeds will fall into the bowl. Make sure to adjust the speed on the fan for different sizes and weights of seed.

Store your seeds in labeled envelopes or seed saving containers. Place them out of the sun on a dry cupboard or shelf or some place where temperature doesn’t fluctuate and isn’t humid. Some seeds need to be stored in the refrigerator for better germination (such as daylily, lily, hibiscus and belamcanda), and do best when stored in glass jars to protect them from humidity. 

Image: anneheathen

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