Collecting and saving seeds

by Adam Pasco

In the current climate of price rises and frozen salaries we're all looking for ways to save money.

Hoverfly on a coriander flowerIn the current climate of price rises and frozen salaries we're all looking for ways to save money. Fortunately, many garden plants help us to cut costs by producing new seed for free. All we have to do is spot the opportunities, then collect and save seed for use next year.

Deadheading spent blooms makes plants look tidier and promotes further flowering, but I allow several of my favourite flowers to form seeds. Some are just left to ripen and fall onto surrounding soil to germinate there. Others are collected and sown in pots in a more organised manner. Among the seeds I've saved this year are foxglove, hellebore, columbine, scabious, Jacob's ladder, snapdragon and calendula.

Around my plot I leave lettuce, mizuna, watercress, broad beans and climbing beans to flower and set seed. Several herbs readily do this too, like coriander and parsley. As the picture (top left) shows, flowering coriander attracts many beneficial insects, like hoverflies, which feed on its pollen.

In fact coriander often bolts very quickly during hot weather, although the variety called 'Leisure' is worth growing as it's slower to bolt, providing more leafy pickings for longer. If your coriander does flower, you can use the crushed seeds in Indian cookery, but save some for sowing next year's coriander crop. Allow the seeds to ripen fully on the plant before harvesting.

In the greenhouse I save seed from chillies, tomatoes and sweet peppers. The rule of thumb here is not to save seed from F1 hybrid varieties, as their progeny will not grow 'true’. You can still try, but there's no guarantee of the quality of the crop. There's more information on saving seed in Sue Stickland's article in the September 2011 issue of Gardeners' World Magazine.

So which seeds are you saving?

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Gardeners' World Web User 19/09/2011 at 18:10

I'm saving seed of my perennial sweet pea to grow plants for my friends. Having collected and cleaned seeds at the botanoc garden for the seed distribution (ten packets) that Friends of the BG are entitled to, I'm a bit of an expert. Some seeds need to be kept in the fridge over winter and all have to be kept dry. If you put the seedheads head first into paper bags or large envelopes they can safely stay there till you are ready to clean them of the detritus that could harbour disease if left on till you are ready to sow. Peas and beans are easy but even they are better for letting dry on the plant and collecting on a dry day.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/09/2011 at 13:02

Hi Mark Well done! Perhaps you could sell/swap your superfluous plants with like-minded friends or through a gardening club?

Gardeners' World Web User 22/09/2011 at 17:53

for many years i`ve saved and dried spent plant seeds, and sometimes they come again, sometimes they don`t, but i`ve often found that keeping them in brown bags in a very dry place seems to work well, so i`ll stick to this method, it seems to work and saves you a packet. all the best for next year

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 08:16

Will my sweetcorn ever ripen now? I they are big and firm but not sure how to tell when they are yellow and ready to pick. This is my first year planting them.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 09:52

Just separate the leaves round one of the cobs,jamkea, and dig in with your nails into one of kernels. A white latex should ooze out if they are perfect to eat. They may not be yellow but white, depending on the variety. At this stage you can eat them without any cooking and they are so sweet and delicious. After a day or two it is better to have them hot with butter dripping from them!

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