Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saving Seeds

I'm utterly incompetent in blogging here. Really a blog is a good form of garden diary, but I'm afraid either on paper or in bytes a diary is of little use unless it's used.

Right now my garden is over grown with annual weeds. But I do like to clean it up a little this time of year, particularly at the edges. The weeds don't come back very strongly so some semblance of order can be achieved. Most of all the garden is so lovely in September. Now there's a riot of Black-Eyed Susan's and hardly any flower is so nice in a mass of bloom.

I hardly clean up very throughly, indeed mostly I let things go until the Spring. That provides cover for insects and animals. Ack! Speaking of varmints, I noticed a ground hog has dug a burrow in my vegetable garden. I'm none too happy about that. I don't have the heart to actually do much about the ground hogs, you know like killing them. But I probably will try something to see if I can encourage this one to go dig a burrow elsewhere. I've heard a bit of barbed wire wrapped around a stick placed in the hole will get them to leave. Speaking of ground hogs, they love plastic, to carpet their living quarters. I went into the barn yesterday and noticed a roll of plastic pulled the whole length of the room with one end frayed. A woodchuck must have tried to steal it for his den.

Anyhow with my half-hearted efforts to tidy up my garden beds, I've been collecting some seed for next year. Not surprisingly I concentrate on seeds which are easy to collect and also easy to direct sow.

Perhaps the easiest flower seed of all to collect is the orange Cosmos Cosmos sulphureus (that picture is a bit misleading as the common types are 18-36 inches tall). The seeds are in a sort of star shape and easily gathered in the hand. Because they are so easy to collect, the seed packets are cheap to buy. There's a nice mix containing a range of yellows and a few reds called 'Bright Lights'. I've also grown selections that are all red. Both are lovely, but I've been growing from collected seed for so many years that all my blossoms are generic orange. They are so worthwhile growing because they come into bloom quickly from sowing, as far as I can tell the ground needs little preparation, and they bloom all summer long. They are great in combination with daisy's and Zinnia, a wonderful "filler" plant.

The picture is of Calendula officinalis or pot marigold. That particular flower is yellow, but most of the ones growing around here are orange. There are some terrific selections with quite beautiful flowers, which will come true to seed. But again, in my lazy way I've collected seeds for many years (because these are as easy to collect as orange cosmos seeds) and the ones I grow are a pretty ordinary sort. Calendula like rather cooler weather, so it's good to get them in early for nice stout plants. Like Cosmos they bloom over a long period, even into the fall.

I love Larkspur. Larkspur is closely related to Delphinium; there are an awful lot of species, and the catalogs seem to fudge on the names. Given the close relation to Delphinium, the seeds are probably poisonous, so don't eat them! The sort that I grow are Blue Cloud from a packet I bought from Cook's Garden at least a dozen years ago. Cook's doesn't name the species. Select names it Consolida regalis, which is probably correct, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it listed as Consolida ajacis, or as Consolida ambigua, or even Delphinium. Names can be so tricky at times, so the thing to look for is 'Blue Cloud'. Really any flower from a packet marked "Larkspur" is bound to be pretty, but 'Blue Cloud' is especially worth growing. Mostly these self-seed in place, but I collect seed to spread around. The seed definately likes to germinate on cold ground, so the old adage is to sow "when the Red-winged Blackbird returns" early March around these parts. The small round seeds fall out of a tube like container, so is easy to collect.

Nasturtium seed is also easy to collect. Right now these seeds are still a bit green, so I let them sit out on a sheet of paper for a few weeks until they are dry enough to pack up. I love Nasturtiums, they are pretty and the flowers are so tasty. Every year I wonder why I don't plant more of them, especially along with the vegetables in the garden. I collect the seeds to plant out next year. Another thing to be done with Nasturtium seed is to make Poor Man's Capers, that is to pickle them.

It's not hard to collect seeds. Some seeds involve a process of winnowing, meaning to blow away the chaff, but even that's not so hard. Of course I concentrate on the easy ones because I'm so lazy. But even I'll take a little more effort for flowers I want more of or are unusual. I've been eying some lovely orange milk weed along the road near my house. I grow it here, but I think that roadside plant may be particularly well adapted to this place. Later when autumn is just beginning, and if I think of it, I'll collect some seeds from that plant. It's quite worth giving seed collecting a try. packets of seeds are much more expensive than they used to be and it's nice to have an abundant supply of seeds in the Spring.

For most seeds I pack them in handmade envelopes. I cut sheets of paper with printing on one side into quarters for notepaper anyway. That quarter sheet size works nicely for many seeds. I simply fold the bottom corner up about midway, then fold the right flap over and then the left. I've then got a tube or envelope to be filled with a small quantity of seed. Then I fold the open end down and tuck the point in a slot where the flaps were folded over making a little squarish pack. It's easy to label, which of course you'll want to do as it will save much time in the spring when you're planning and planting. As summer matures, it's a pleasure to notice the seed bearing parts of plants and to collect a few seeds along the way.

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