Seed Harvesting


Many Gardeners buy their seeds in expensive little packets year after year. Others gather and exchange seeds with friends. When you begin to gather seeds, you will add an interesting and exciting facet to your gardening.



Here the Marigold seed pod on the left
has ripened and hangs down to allow its seeds to drop out.

 

A walk down a country lane, or along a pond or lake, or a residential neighborhood will take on a new excitement. It's somewhat like going to a Public Auction and not knowing what is up for bid next. There may be some unique seeds along your path.

Often you can witness the size, color, texture, and fragrance of the parent plant. This particular plant may not be duplicated from commercial seeds, but may be cloned by  gathering its seeds. Always collect seeds from the latgest, healthiest plants.

Some seeds like Cardinal Flower are so tiny that you may not see them unless you put them on contrasting material or use a magnifying glass. Fox Glove, Canterberry Bells, and Cleome are not much larger.

By contrast, it may take two hands to hold a Coconut, the seed of the Coconut Palm Tree. A peach seed is big as the first knuckle of your thumb. A Cherry seed may be the size of a Pea, which itself is a seed we eat. Acorns, Beans, Pop Corn, Peanuts, and Cashews, are all seeds that may germinate into plants if they are given the proper treatment.

Seeds come in many sizes and shapes. We are so accustomed to using some for food that we fail to think of them as seeds. Some seeds are contained in the spent remains of a flower. Others are contained within fruits like Watermelons, Grapes, Apples, Peaches, and Cherries.

A seed must be harvested when it is ripe the same as a fruit must be. Usually, this ripening is indicated by the flower turning brown or the fruit falling from the tree. It may be necessary for the fruit to rot in order for the seed to be prepared for germination. It seems that components of the rotting process are responsible for this preparation.

Some seeds may need other conditions to prepare them for germination. Some need the heat of a forest fire, while others need the freezing temperatures of winter. Many seeds would be destroyed by the very conditions that others require.

Seeds must be harvested at the proper time which may be limited to weeks or days or even hours. When the seed pod ripens it may bend over and drop its seeds like the Marigold. Or it may ride the wind for miles like the Milkweed, a favorite of Butterflies.

The seed may even hitch a ride on a passerby like the Burdock Burr, or get launched like a rocket by the action of the parent plant when touched by your leg. Depending on conditions, the window of time for gathering viable seeds may be rather small.

After gathering ripe seeds, how you store them is very important. If exacting conditions are met, the seeds may remain viable for many years. Different seeds may require different conditions. But luckily, most seeds will remain viable until the next planting season with minimal care.


Seed Extraction

After you harvest the seed pods you will want to remove the individual seeds from the pod to facilitate sowing. Removing the seed from fruit like a peach is no mystery, except that the seed may be more viable if the peach is rotten rather than table-ripe. Flower seeds are a little different.
A - This spent orange Marigold is due for "Dead Heading", the practice of removing faded flowers from the plant to prolong the blooming season.  If seeds are allowed to ripen on the plant, chemicals are produced that tell the plant it has been successful in its mission to propagate its species. Then it may tend to stop blooming. The whole reason for blooming is to attract pollinators to perpetuate the species. Thank You, Ultimate Designer.

These unripened seed pods may be viable when dried, but pods allowed to ripen on the plant, as in "B", have a better chance of reproducing specimen plants. Other varieties of seeds and  pods may look different, but the extraction process is usually much the same.

B - To remove the seeds from this orange Marigold, it should first be allowed to ripen. The best seeds, like the best fruit, are allowed to ripen on the plant.

C - First, remove the spent blossom.

D - Then remove the seeds from the pod. Some seeds will fall out when the pod is turned upside-down. Others may require somewhat more effort. Some are rather difficult, like the Black Walnut or Brazil Nut. But the only reason to extract those seeds is for food. They are left intact for sowing.

Ripe seeds will usually leave the pod with very little effort on your part. In Nature, they would have  the Sun, Wind, Birds and Animals to help extract and sow them.

E - These are five wonderful ("Full of Wonder") ripened seeds.
Each one contains every characteristic of its heritage.
 
 
 

This is a similar chart for Foxglove showing the bloom, the formed seed pod, the ripe seed pod, and the fly-speck seeds. Fine seeds are easily removed by crushing the seed pod and separating the seeds through a wire tea strainer.