The Q&A Archives: Seeds

Question: I am trying to collect seeds from my mums and asters. Would they be under the dried up blooms?

Answer: Collecting seeds is an interesting project. Seeds should be found just below where the petals were on the flower. After the petals fall, leave the flowerheads on the plant so seeds mature. If you cut it off too soon, the embryo won't continue developing. Gather seed when fruit ripens. It will be nearly dry and may be crisp, papery or stiff. The seed should be brown or black. As a rule of thumb, this happens about a month after flowers fade.

The best time for gathering fruit is in the afternoon on a sunny, dry day. Rain or dew on the fruit promotes mold in storage. Drop pods into bags, separating each species.

Pay close attention to fruit drying in the garden. Some types shatter, dropping seeds on the ground. Others fling it across the garden. When pods open, it's time to move into action. But don't get "seed-saver's anxiety,". Fruit ripens sequentially. Even if you miss the first seeds, you'll get a chance to catch the next batch.

To avoid losing any of your harvest, tie small paper bags over the ripening pods. Be sure to seal any openings where seed could escape. A cloth bag works especially well because you can cinch it tight, but it also costs more. When fruit ripens, simply cut the stem below the bag.

After harvesting the seedheads, open the fruit to remove the seeds. As you do this, chaff ? bits of dry plant parts ? will mix in with the seed. Winnow it out in front of a fan set on low speed, pouring the seed from one jar to another. The breeze blows away the lighter chaff while heavier seed falls. Sift really small seeds through a sieve with holes slightly larger than the seeds but smaller than the chaff.

After cleaning, spread the seed on newspapers to dry for one to two weeks. Seed that's too wet when you put it away can heat up like a compost pile, shortening its storage life. In very humid climates where seed takes longer to dry, place it in a jar with silica gel wrapped in cheesecloth for about a week.

When the seeds feel dry to the touch, they're done. Store seeds in a small, dry bag. Tightly seal the bag, then label it with the plant name and harvest date and place it in a jar or other airtight container. Store jars in a cool, dry basement, the vegetable crisper of your fridge or an interior closet.

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