After several weeks of warm dry weather in the highlands, it is the perfect time for me to be saving seed from my summer leafy greens.
I don’t save a lot of seed as I often buy punnets of seedlings or packets of commercial seed, simply because they are easy to pick up at the local hardware or supermarket when I am doing other stuff. Unfortunately, these vegetable are usually F1 hybrids and therefore will not come true to type from seed. But that is another story for another blog.
The upshot of this is that I only regularly save seed from about four plants, wild rocket, open leaf lettuce, such as oak leaf, coriander and dill. These are all really easy to grow and will often self-seed if you just leave them to flower and seed. I like to gather these seeds so I can sow plants where I want them to grow.
The four plants listed all produce what are commonly called dry seed, that is their seed is not in a fruit and will only be contained in a dry covering, as opposed to say a tomato seed which is encased in a freshly fruit and requires fermentation to extract viable seed.
So what do I do:
Firstly, I select the best plants in the crop ie those that grew well, didn’t bolt quickly and were not bother by pest and disease. By doing this you are actually genetically improving the plant over a number of generations to better suit your climate and growing conditions.
I let these plants flower and then set seed.
Once I can seed that the seed is fully mature I will pick the entire plant and place this upside down in a paper bag. I pick the whole plant because any energy within the leaves and stems will be pumped into the seed to ensure maturity and viability of that seed. Another way is to cover the seed heads with a paper bag and wait till they drop into it only trouble with this is the weather has to be very dry for the entire time whereas by placing them in a bag and hanging them in a dark dry spot ie broom cupboard, you really don’t have to worry about if it is going to rain.
In a few weeks gently shake the stalks of the plant or roll them in between your hands whilst still in the paper bag. This will release much of the seed. Discard the plant stems.
Lay a large piece of paper on a flat surface and gentle tip the contents of the paper bag onto it. Be extra careful with the rocket and coriander seed as they are round and will roll off the paper easily. There may be a bit of debris in amongst the seed, if it is large enough pick the majority of it out or pass the contents of the bag through a sieve to remove the seed.
It is important to store your seed properly.
Whatever you put then in must be extremely dry, sterile, air tight and resistant to moisture accumulation.
I use to just pop my seed into envelops but found the viability was not good as often the paper would take up a small amount of moisture in humid conditions.
Now I prefer to put them into sterile jars that have good tight fitting lids, I use recycled food jars that I have thoroughly washed then sterilised and dried out in the oven. I make sure they are completely cool before putting the seed in them.
I place a label with the name of the plant and when I gather the seed on it.
Then store them in a cool dark space generally a cupboard or decorative tin.
You do not have to gather much seed to save yourself some money, the amount in the jars above would equal several packets.
I try to save new seed each year as the viability of most seed reduces with age so the fresher the better.
This is such an easy task and very rewarding so why not try and save some of the seed from your favourite leafy green.