As the calendar turns to September, the gardens still looks fabulous, but we know the time for their showy displays is limited. Fall is approaching.
Yes, of course, there will be mums, asters, and all the colors of fall — but do not give up on your summer blooms. Collect and save seeds for next year.
Seriously, it is quite simple. As you notice the summer flowers beginning to fade, take note of how the seeds or seedpods are becoming more prominent. This is your first clue that the seeds are getting ready for harvest.
Resist the urge to pick them too soon; they need the nutrition from the plant to become ready for next year. When to pick is a lesson learned with experience or good luck.
The hyacinth bean vine gets its name from the purple seedpods it produces. As these pods puff out and turn dark, you know it is time to snip them off and collect the seeds. I let the pods dry before removing the beans or seeds inside. I know if there is moisture when I store them, the seeds may rot and not be viable for next year’s garden.
Same with the blackberry lily. This plant most definitely tells you when to harvest the seeds. The flower turns to a (not edible) blackberry. After that happens, I like to enjoy the berry on the vine but realize it is a race to beat the birds to the seeds. I cut the stems and dry them before removing the seeds.
I’m not shy about collecting seeds. I have been sneaky in private gardens where I just could not resist putting a few seedpods in my pocket and will gladly wrap a few seeds in a tissue or paper towel if a friend is willing to share.
A better idea is to keep a plastic bag with you when you walk through the garden. That way, you can shake the seeds into the bag and not worry about losing them before getting inside. But, do not leave them in the plastic bag — this is just for collection.
When you get inside, remove the seeds to a dry area. This could be a shallow cardboard box or paper. I use a slotted plastic nursey tray; you know, the kind that vendors fill with pots of annuals in the spring.
I line the tray with dry newspaper and keep it in a dark, cool spot for a couple of weeks. This extra time makes sure they are completely dry before storing them for the fall and winter months.
I will say it again: dry, cool, and dark are the keys to successful seed storage. Well, dry, cool, dark, and labeling. Once the seeds are completely dry move them to envelopes, plastic bottles (like pill bottles because they have a tight lid), or glass containers. Add a label with the plant name and date harvested.
This might be a good time to think ahead to holiday gifts. Have some fun with the label; include growing recommendations, maybe a story about how the plant came to be in your garden. These seeds, personalized from your garden will make a great gift. Go all in and create a gift basket by adding a garden journal, fountain pen, or a trowel and gloves. I’m borrowing this idea from a friend who shares marigold seeds from her garden every year.
Once labeled, pick a cool dry spot for winter storage. A cellar, dry basement, or even the refrigerator will work.
Vegetable seeds can be a bit trickier. I remember my mom drying tomato seeds on paper towels, but I suggest doing some research. There is a way to remove the tomato flesh from the seeds before drying. Getting them to grow and produce fruit the next year is an art form.
Seed collection can happen any time of the year, so be willing to experiment and have fun. Remember, it occurs naturally in the garden with the help of birds and self-seeders plants.
Given the right conditions, seeds can extend the family tree of your plants for years to come.