Notes from Windward: #69
September 22nd 2009
When I used to think about a home-scale garden, I would think only of the harvest, similar to a commercial (even small scale) farm. As the public becomes more and more divorced from the food system that feeds us, The Harvest remains as perhaps the most prominent and celebrated part of the agricultural cycle (aside from eating of course). Yet, the agricultural cycle, is indeed a cycle and so one part of the cycle cannot take place without the necessary preceding steps. You can't harvest without planting seed, or plant seed without saving seed.
Commercial greenhouses, nurseries and seed catalogues all make this a little easier for the farmers and gardeners, allowing them to focus on the harvest if they choose to. With farmers' time already so undervalued and with the work day already packed so full, being able to purchase seed from a reliable seed company saves valuable time and energy, not to mention field space. But saving your own seeds can allow you to develop plant varieties best adapted to your climate and soil, increase the sovereignty you have over your food supply, and maintain a diverse growing stock, all important for building a resilient food system.
This is my first season experimenting with saving seed and it has, of course, presented a new set of challenges. The primary challenge is bed space, since the flowering plant left to go to seed needs to stay in the ground longer than if you were to just pull it out when the harvest was over, making successive plantings a little more tricky. Some plants take longer than others to set seed; I was able to collect seed from arugula, spinach and radishes seeded this spring, for example, in mid July, while carrots planted last summer weren't ready for seed harvesting until this August.
carrots for seed
For the most part, for plants that we don't consume the seed (e.g. greens, roots etc) it is fairly obvious when the seed is mature--the seed pod usually turns brown and dries out and the seeds also dry out and become hard. For plants that still are well adapted to spread their own seed (unlike corn, for example), you have to be careful not to wait too long, because the plant will disperse its own seeds before you get there (which is fine if you don't mind having volunteer plants coming up throughout the growing space).
I tended to leave the seed pod on the plant stalk until the plant was mostly dried out and then cut the stalk, placing it upside down (seeds first) into a paper bag to finished drying. So far this season, I have successfully collected chard, carrot, arugula, beet, dill, rhubarb, spinach, mixed salad greens, radish, coriander, beans, peas and leek seed. I also tried planting some of the fall crops with seed generated this summer, and it worked (the seeds germinated) for all those I tried: arugula, spinach, carrots and radishes.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69