Archive for the ‘Seed Saving’ Category

The Fruits Of My Labour – Or Not!

Back at the end of Spring, when I had finished harvesting my broad beans, I still had heaps of seeds that had dried on the plant. When I pulled the plants up they went everywhere and since I was crazy busy & had already harvested all of the seed I needed I decided to leave them in situ. Funny enough, because of the strange weather we had over Summer and into Autumn, those beans sprouted prolifically, flowered & now, when we should be sowing seed for spring crops, I am harvesting them for the plate at a time when I have never had fresh broad beans before!

BP_BroadBeans1

So, while I’d love to tell you that these were the fruits of my labour, actually I just mulched over them and up they came! They did all of the hard work for me. All I had to do was drink my gin and enjoy the summer! Now that’s food for thought!

BP_BroadBeans2

Saving Carrot Seed : Rainy Day Activity #1

A few weeks ago I snipped the dried out seed heads off of my carrots and plonked them in a big bowl for a rainy day. Well folks, yesterday was a particularly rainy day so, I sat down at the table and started harvesting those seeds. This really is one of those “sitting in front of your favorite show” type activities. Sometimes Paul and I sit at the table together processing seed & shooting the breeze. If we’re really lucky friends or family might join us. It’s a nice thing to do while you’re sitting there chit-chatting.

The things youll need to process your carrot seed.

Carrot seed is one of those slightly fiddly seeds to harvest and clean but, don’t be put off because it is really rewarding.

Carrots are members of the Umbelliferae family, which is quite easy to tell when we look at the way the flowers, or seed heads are formed. The flower/seed heads are called umbels – yes, they resemble umbrellas. You probably wouldn’t believe that carrot flowers can grow up to six feet tall. True!

Carrot seed and umbel.

The idea of saving carrot seeds can also be quite daunting because they are deemed “biennial”, meaning that they aren’t expected to produce flowers/seeds until the second spring/summer. It should be noted however, that it’s not always the case. In my experience it depends on the variety, the time of year the carrots were sown, and most importantly, the weather conditions. My latest batch of seed came from a single carrot, sown autumn-winter, that flowered sometime in spring and had seed ready to harvest by late summer-early autumn – the end of the first season.

Ok, so lets get down to the nitty-gritty.

Harvesting the seed:

Once the seed heads have formed and sufficiently dried, snip them off as I did and pop them in a bowl. If the seed is well formed but the umbel has not completely dried out and you find that the weather is wet, it is fine to cut the umbels (leaving 10cm of stem attached) and bring them inside to dry.

Processing the seed:

You will notice that the seeds have what is known as a “beard” attached to the seed coat. Practically all seed you buy from seed suppliers will come to you having had the beard removed. Whether or not you de-beard your carrot seed is totally up to you. The beard is, of course, there for a purpose and that is to assist the seed working itself down into the soil. So, there is certainly no harm in you leaving the beard on your seed. Personally, I find it easier to handle without the beard and I love the smell of carrot oil that is released when you rub the seeds together. To remove the “beard” simply rub the seeds between your hands until the seeds become smooth. You will notice that the chaff will fall away as the beards are crushed. I let it all drop down onto the table, picking it up and rubbing again and again until the seed is sufficiently clean.

From there I scoop it all up, pop it into my tea strainer and shake it all around until I am left with clean seed. Notice that my sieve isn’t the finest you can buy. You need it to have enough space to allow the chaff to go through but not your seeds. My hot tip is to do this in smaller batches, as it is easier to shake the seed around.

And that’s it. Just store your seed as you would any other (for more details, see my earlier post on ‘general seed saving practices’).

Now, before I go I should tell you a couple of important things to be aware of when saving carrot seed.

1. It is recommended that you allow at 500m between carrot varieties to avoid cross-pollination (unless, of course, you are hoping to crossbreed your own carrots). Also note that if you are growing Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota –wild carrot) you should be careful not to allow them both to flower at the same time i.e. cut off the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. If the two are allowed to cross the Queen Anne’s Lace will dominate.

2. The umbels (flowers/seed heads) at the top of the plant will produce the biggest and best seed. For every set of umbels below that the quality of the seed is reduced. That does not mean that it is no good, just that it is of lesser quality.  You should always use the best seed if you intend to save seed again.

In terms of viability, carrot seed has a relatively short shelf life. The seed can be kept for up to three years if stored well.

Good luck and have fun xx

Oh and just because I know how much people love Chickie-boombah, this is what she likes to do on rainy days 😉

Chickie Boombah doesnt like rain. Shed rather stay inside & eat peaches.

Saving Cucumber Seed

Collecting and saving the seed of cucumbers is an easy and enjoyable task. Cucumber seeds can be kept for between 4-10 years depending on the storage conditions.

The important thing about saving any seed is that you want to choose the best plants: the most vigorous, hardy, or heat/cold tolerant) and the best fruit: the best colour, texture, shape, size and most importantly taste. Once you identify the plant from which you want to get your seed you need to give it a bit of T.L.C. You should remove any side branches that might take energy away from forming fruit. It may also be a good idea to limit the number of fruit allowed to grow on that plant so that you maximize the quality of fruit/seed produced.

I have recently harvested my cucumber seeds. Here’s how I do it:

1. I identify my best performing plant and remove all lateral shoots. I pick any excess fruit often, not allowing them to grow much past pickling size. This directs energy back into the seed baring fruit, enhancing my yield. I wait until the fruit is large and has changed colour from a bright shiny green to a dull yellow or brown. If the fruit is beginning to soften or the plant is dying this is another indicator that the seed is ready for harvest.

2. Remove the fruit from the plant and bring inside. You don’t have to harvest the seed immediately. You can do it after a few days but, preferably before the fruit gets funky.

3. Get yourself: A chopping board, a sharp knife, a medium bowl, a colander and some paper or paper towel.

4. Cut the fruit open. Personally I like to cut it in half then cut down the sides along the seam of its three chambers. This makes it easy for me to handle and I don’t cut into any of the seed.

5. With your thumb push against the flesh, dropping the seeds into a bowl. You will notice that most of the seed will have a jelly like membrane surrounding the seed. Leave this attached.

Note to self - into a bowl 😉

6. Put some water in the bowl and place aside in a safe spot for a few days. Our aim is to leave the seed and pulp in the water, stirring each day, until the membrane dissolves and the viable seed drop to the bottom of the bowl. A foam may form on the surface which will indicate that the fermentation process is complete. This is important as it will kill any seed-borne diseases.

7. Rinse seed in a colander under running water.

8. Spread seed onto paper or paper towel to dry.

9. When dry place the seed into either a jar or envelope and clearly mark the details of the seed. Store in a cool, dark and dry area.

Seed Saving

Seed saving is a very important garden activity in terms of history, community and good home economics. It is easy to do but, like many things in life, there are a few rules that can help make your efforts more successful. As I save seeds through the year I will post them up so that you can get a better understanding of the processes required of different plants.

General Seed Saving Practices

Seeds should be stored in dark glass jars, brown paper bags or envelopes. Personally, I prefer to place any seed which I store in envelopes or paper bags in plastic snap lock bags first. I do this as a precaution, to deter pests that might sniff out the contents of the bag or envelope and chew their way into my seed. I am not overly pedantic about using dark coloured glass as I store my seeds in a dark cupboard. Dark jars can be a little tricky to find. Vitamin jars are very useful so be sure to ask your family and friends to keep theirs.

All seed will perform better if stored in a cool, dark and dry place like a cupboard or cellar. Keeping your seed bank on the south or south-eastern side of your house during summer will prevent heat damage, prolonging the shelf life of your seeds. (For those in the northern hemisphere that’s the north or north-western side).

If you are really serious about preserving your seed you can store the seed in packets, inside glass jars in the fridge. You will need to get your hands on some silica crystals and perhaps a humidity indicator card to place in the jar with your seed. You can find both fairly cheap online. They will help to prevent moisture spoiling the seed. Honestly, I think this is overkill but, I do store carrot and parsnip seeds this way as they have a very short shelf life. Anything that might prolong this will certainly be beneficial. For the rest of my seed this is not necessary. It would take up a lot of room and be an awful waste of energy.

Be sure to label your seed carefully. You should clearly mark the namedate, and any other relevant information like: the location where they were harvested or a brief history of the seed. For instance, if a friend gave me seed that was a family heirloom, perhaps brought with them from their home village in Italy, I would most definitely write that information down and keep it with any seed I store or give away. Those sorts of details are particularly important to keep.

When we come into possession of such precious seed we really become their custodians. It becomes our responsibility to grow the plants, save the seed and distribute it to others so that those heirloom varieties will be available for future generations.

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