Say “Seeeeeeeds!”… Time for Seed Harvesting

Call it the “after thought harvest”… seed harvesting is not something that you might do or even think about if you are a newbie (or even seasoned) veggie grower. But if you don’t like forking out $3.50 a pack for organic seeds, then I suggest you give some thought, and a tiny bit of energy, to harvesting some seeds from your own crops to plant next year.

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Of course each crop variety has a slightly different method for harvesting its seeds. In the case of “fruiting” crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, the seeds are inside of the fruit, so must therefore be harvested from a picked fruit. I will leave those to a separate blog post later in the season… for now, let’s consider legumes and leafy crops, since that is what we’re harvesting right now.

Legumes (i.e. beans and peas) are the absolute simplest seed to harvest. Just allow a few of your pea and bean pods to fully mature and dry out on the vine. Harvest only after the pods are fully dried. A word of caution – don’t allow too many beans to fully mature off the bat or you will reduce the output of your plants. In the case of beans and peas, the more you pick, the more they produce! So wait until the plants are getting close to the end of their productive life before allowing pods to fully mature for seed harvesting. We have had excellent results with all peas and beans to date!

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

In the case of leafy crops the concept is simple – allow some of each crop to bolt, flower and go to seed, then allow the seeds to dry on the live plant before harvesting. I really cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the seed pods to dry fully on the plant before harvesting. If harvested too soon, the seeds may not be viable, or they may be difficult to store without rotting. This takes patience! For the last month we have been annoyingly stepping around a tangle of bolted cilantro to water our swiss chard, biding our time til the seeds are fully dried and ready to harvest… all for the love of sweet, sweet crushed coriander seed. (In the case of coriander, we save a few seeds for planting, but we use it religiously in all sorts of cooking.)

Cilantro (coriander) seeds... almost dry!

Cilantro (coriander) seeds… almost dry!

Over the last few years, we have had really good results harvesting seeds from the following leafy crops: all lettuces (… and did you know that lettuce plants have beautiful yellow flowers when they bolt?); spinach; arugula; dill; cilantro; and basil.

Once you have harvested the dried seed pods from the plant, release the individual seeds by rolling the pods between your thumb and fingers, gently crushing the dried pod. Place your harvested seeds in paper envelopes; I would advice against plastic since trapped humidity can make your seeds rot. Label, and store for next year in a cool, dry place. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make yourself a cute seed box to keep them all in …

Say Seeeeds!

Say Seeeeds!

FYI, to date, we have not had any success harvesting seeds from kale, although recently I started chatting with a man on an airplane who turned out to run a small cooperative farm. He said that you can totally harvest kale seeds, and that they are good for eating as a nutrient-packed sprouted seed! We are definitely going to try this in the fall… will keep you posted on that one.

 

It’s a little seedy around here

At this time of year, I get a lot of people asking me the same question when I tell them about the vegetable garden: “Where do you get your seeds?” In case you are also interested in the answer to this question, dear reader, I will tell you. There are the several places we get our seeds…

First of all, as much as possible we harvest seeds from our own garden for future planting. To date we’ve had success doing this with peas, beans, peppers, basil, cilantro, cantaloupe, lettuce, spinach and arugula. (Stay tuned this summer for a video blog series dedicated to showing you how to harvest from various crops.)

Hands down the best seed-buying event in Ottawa is Seedy Saturday – an event held in early March each year where numerous local (ON and QC) organic farms sell their seeds. For the last three years we have come home from this event with way more seeds than we planned from several of the farmers selling there, and have yet to be disappointed. The event also has a seed exchange table (i.e. FREE seeds if you have something to contribute to the table), some highly instructional gardening workshops and all sorts of scrumptious artisanal goodies to be found. Check out the Ecology Ottawa website for next year’s date.

Sugar snap pea seeds

Sugar snap peas from Ferme Tourne-Sol

There is one farm from which we’ve had some particularly incredible seeds: Ferme Tourne-Sol co-operative farm (les Cèdres, QC.) We have tried several of their tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peas, radishes, carrots and kale and everything has been very well germinating and producing. If you missed them at Seedy Saturday you can always order seeds from their website.

We are trying some fun potatoes this year! We have ordered four different varieties of fingerling potatoes from Bryson Farm.

We’ve also had good results with seeds from Greta’s Organic Gardens (Gloucester, ON) and Urban Harvest (Toronto, ON.)

Finally, I have been know to pick up certain herbs (rosemary, thyme, dill, chives) at the Parkdale Market, where you can often buy 3 plants for $5.

So, you could say we are not really one to buy seeds at Canadian Tire, preferring to take time to choose seeds that are heirloom as often as possible, and from organic producers. BUT, if that is what is easiest for you in order to get growing, then what better way to spend your CT dollars!