Saving Open Pollinated Seed

Fennel SeedsI’ve let the garden run wild recently. My excuse for not raking up leaves or pruning seed heads is that I’m supporting the wildlife that occasionally takes over my garden. Birds, foxes, frogs, toads, slugs, snails and caterpillars tend to ignore me and do their own thing. There was a moment last summer when I nearly threw in the towel - I stood in the garden in the rain watching hundreds of slugs and snails munch their way through every plant.

But I’ve learnt to share. They take 90% and leave me about 10% of my garden spoils.

I’ll forgo the pleasure (!) of raking up the leaves until the New Year, when I’ll gather them up and make leaf mulch. The worms and insects nestling beneath scattered leaves provide food for birds. I’ve also let most of my plants go to seed to give small birds some additional food supplies.

As today has been dry, I’ve been gathering my share of the seed heads from around the garden. I’ve purposely left it a little late; summer-flowering plants should ideally be harvested in the autumn, but there are plenty of seeds still to be had.

Collecting seed is not only economical it also means you can grow plants that have already adapted to the conditions of your garden. Insects, birds and the wind naturally pollinate open pollinated plants. Because the source of pollination is unknown, varieties of open pollinated plants have widely differing genetic traits.

Most commercial seeds are F1 (first generation) cultivars. F1 hybrids come from two parents chosen for particular characteristics such as high yields and consistent size, sometimes at the expensive of taste and fragrance.

It’s not worth collecting the seeds from F1s as they won’t reproduce the same characteristics a second year - you need to use fresh seed each season. To grow F1 seed successfully, you should use the right type of fertilizer and plant in the recommended position. You have to make the environment right for the plant.

The joy of open pollinated seed is that it will adapt to the conditions your garden has to offer. For more information on this, a book I highly recommend is Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Gardener.

I collect seeds in paper bags or envelopes as this allows seeds that may still be soggy to dry out thoroughly. Once they are completely dry, I transfer to airtight plastic tubs and store in a cool place. Seeds are quite happy in the fridge (if you have room), as they prefer low temperatures.

My seed collection this year consists mainly of herbs and flowers. Opium poppies (purely for the eye-catching flowers), marigolds, nasturtiums, coriander, fennel, and one envelope I’ve forgotten to label, so that should be an exciting surprise next spring.

Next year, I intend to grow more heirloom vegetables and create a gene pool of plants specially designed to grow in my garden. World domination follows...

Related posts:

I Never Promised You a Herb Garden
All Creatures Great and Small
Bees and the State of Nature Report
Self-seeding Flowers
The Smelliest Plant Food Ever