© 2018 Flying Blue Dog Homestead & Nursery


Aug 23, 2018

Seed Saving 8/23/18


Edited: Aug 23, 2018


“Flowers and Fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life of the future.”

-Marion Zimmer Bradley


I’m starting to feel it, are you? It hit me a few weeks ago like a lightning bolt. I was going about my everyday maintenance chores, you know the ones you have to do just to take care of what you have already created that you have to get out of the way before the day can really begin… as I was watering and looking around I started to see dried flower heads and seedpods ready to be gathered. It went fast this summer, and there was no time to sit and contemplate the mysteries of time. In fact some of the sweet pea pods were so mature they had already corkscrewed open releasing next year’s progeny.





It was time to get my seed saving stuff together and begin monitoring other plants as they matured their seed. I use pretty much whatever we have lying around to collect the seeds. Mostly it’s used plastic containers of varying sizes, sometimes I use paper bags, lots of times all I can do is jam the seeds in my pocket because there is nothing around and leaving them even one more minute could mean losing them to the wind or a critter. I save seed from all the annual flowers regardless of whether they are open pollinated or not, they’re flowers for goodness sake, they don’t have to be perfect and I love surprises in the garden.





Saving seeds of veggies is different though because you want the seed saved to produce something edible in the coming year. So saving seed of veggies requires a bit of knowledge. The first thing you want to know is whether the plant is open pollinated or a hybrid. Hybrid seed will not come true, that is it won’t look like the parent plant, you may get something edible and then again you may not. Open pollinated plants are those plants that will replicate themselves, they come true.


The next thing you need to know is if the plant is an out-breeder or an in-breeder. An in-breeder is a plant that self-pollinates passing all its genes onto its offspring. These are the easiest plants to save seed from and are great for beginning seed savers. Tomatoes, peas, lettuce, beans and wheat are all strong in breeders.


Out breeders require two different plants of the same species for pollination. The sperm from one plant fertilizes the ovules of another. The offspring are genetically different than the parent plants. Strong out breeders are corn, beets, broccoli and spinach. To save seeds from out breeders requires some planning to keep the seed true. I know this stuff can be confusing so here’s an example. You planted two varieties of corn at the same time and both varieties have similar maturation dates. This means that both varieties will be flowering and shedding pollen at the same time. Since all varieties of corn belong to the same species, the pollen from one variety can fertilize all other varieties. If they are both sweet corn varieties this isn’t too much of a problem. If however, you planted a sweet corn variety and a popcorn variety, what you get may not pop nor will it be the sweet corn you were hoping for.


Unless out breeders are grown by themselves or are separated by maturation time, distance or physical barriers, it is best to start your seed saving adventure with known in-breeders (tomatoes, peas, lettuce, beans and wheat) and flowers.


You want to make sure you save seed from a number of your best plants just to make sure the genetic diversity stays high. I will sometimes tag the plants I want to save seed from. I look for healthy, fast growing plants, plants that set fruit early or plants that have especially tasty fruits. Sometimes bugs like certain plants and not others, or disease attacks one plant but not the one next to it so you would want to save seed from the plant that isn’t hosting bugs and disease. It’s all about observation! In this way we get to participate in creating next year’s plants.


When to collect seed is crucial to its future viability. The seed should be fully mature in the pod. Pods of different plants will turn dry and brittle with a brown, tan, grey, and sometimes black color when they are fully mature. It’s important to check in on them daily. Some plants have developed clever ways of dispersing their ripe seed once the pods are mature. Many at the slightest touch, even a good gust of wind will burst open their protective pods scattering seed, some can even project their seed several feet.


Once you have determined the pods are mature it’s time to harvest. I take a container and a pair of scissors to the plant, place the container under the seed head or pod and snip them off into the container. Then, just to be sure they are fully dry I will set the container is a cool well ventilated room for a few days before threshing, winnowing and screening them.






Threshing is breaking the seedpods open and separating the seed. I mostly do this by gently crumbling them in my hands. Next you need to winnow out all the debris. If it’s a nice breezy day all you may need to do is go outside with two bowls and carefully pour the seeds from one bowl into another bowl placed just beneath it. The breeze will carry the lighter chaff away and the heavy seeds will fall into the second bowl. It takes some trial and error to know exactly how far apart to hold the bowl. Typically smaller lighter seed will require a shorter distance between bowls. If there is no breeze or its too breezy then setting up a fan may be an option. Again figuring out how far to be from the fan will take a bit of practice. Sometimes all I do is put the seeds in a shallow bowl and gently blow the chaff away.






Most of the time I can clean the seeds sufficiently just by winnowing, on occasion though it is helpful to use a set of screens. You can buy fancy seed saving screens or make your own with hardware cloth. Small seed will require 1/8-inch cloth. A set made from 1/8”, 1/4", 1/2", 3/8” cloth should cover all the seed sizes. Make a 12 “ X 12” frame and attach the hardware cloth.

Once the seeds are cleaned I like to spread them out to dry a bit more before I package them up. Use plywood, a plate, screen or cookie sheet in a cool well-ventilated area out of direct sun. When you package and store them think cool and dry. Most seeds will remain viable for 3-5 years. Exceptions are onions, leeks and parsnips, which only last a year.







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  • “Vitality and beauty are gifts from nature for those who live according to its laws” Leonardo de Vinci This week I thought I would talk about growing and using common, easy to grow and use medicinal herbs. Since the beginning of time humans of all cultures on all continents have used plants for healing. Plants have the unique ability to absorb inorganic substances from the earth, air, water, sun and ether and convert it into life-giving, life supporting ingredients. They produce active mendicants in the form of alkaloids, essential oils, enzymes, vitamins, trace elements and minerals that are easily absorbed into our bodies. Many of our current day culinary herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and others were originally used as medicine. You may have some of these growing in your garden already, so let’s talk about how to use them for medicine. These herbs release anti-oxidants and other protective chemicals when ingested. Most of these herbs can be prepared in water and taken as a tea, an infusion or a decoction. Tea is usually made with 1 teaspoon of dried herb and 1 cup of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the herb, cover and let it steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking. Infusion is a kicked up version of a tea with more medicinal power. To do this you use 1 cup to 1 ounce of herb in a quart jar, once again fill the jar with just boiled water and cover to let steep. Infusions are steeped 4-8 hours then strained and drunk 1 cup 2 times a day. Decoction is used to render out the medicinal qualities of more woody substances like bark and roots. Put 1 ounce of the barky or woody herb in a pan along with 1 quart of water, bring almost to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, strain and bottle. Decoctions are used by the tablespoon at the rate of 1-2 tablespoons 3 times a day. Another way to make a decoction is to take an infusion and gently heat it until it is reduced by half. Decoctions are a good way to get children to take herbal medicine when they won’t drink an entire cup of a medicinal tea 3 times a day. Liniment making is easy to do, it is applied topically to help with bruising, sprains and skin irritations. Harvest some fresh leaves and stuff them in a quart canning jar or other glass jar with a lid. Fill the jar with leaves and then pour in regular rubbing alcohol to the top. Set this in a cupboard out of direct light and let it steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain out the leaves and bottle the liquid to use when ever needed. Small empty spray bottles can be purchased at health food stores or herbal stores and can be used to apply liniment to the areas needed. Here are some of the herbs and their qualities: Bay leaf has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities. In addition, it can be used in teas to help alleviate headaches and migraines. Making a liniment out of Bay is great for bruises and sprains. Oregano and its cousin Marjoram have anti-septic qualities, chewing a leaf can help relive toothache. Tea made with oregano is great for colds, coughs, sore throats and indigestion. Rosemary revitalizes and strengthens your whole body; it relieves weariness, aids digestion, soothes a nervous heart, helps the lungs and has anti-septic qualities. Sage is great for regulating menstrual cycles as well as helping menopausal symptoms, it is a diuretic, so helps with fluid retention, fights depression and is a great breath freshener. Thyme is strongly anti-septic, relieves bronchitis, hoarseness, colds, digestion and tension headaches. Parsley is such a nourishing herb and should be eaten whenever possible. It is full of vitamins and minerals including, calcium, iron, vitamin C, A and B. It helps digestion and stomachache, acts as a breath freshener as well as an overall body freshener and can even reduce the smell from eating garlic. It is a mild diuretic, tonic for the kidneys and uterus, mild laxative, can lower blood pressure and is anti-microbial. Peppermint Commonly used for teas and infusions, peppermint is used to treat colic and digestive upset, having a cup of peppermint tea after a meal aids in digestion. It’s also been used in the treatment of colds, flus and stuffy noses due to its ability to open the sinuses. Adding honey to a cup of peppermint tea will also ease a sore throat. Lemon Verbena is good for relieving indigestion, heartburn, and for toning the digestive tract. It is also soothes anxiety and as a sedative it is helpful in insomnia. Lemon Balm is known to 'lift the spirits', it aids in relieving stress, indigestion and sleep disorders. Winter Savory is considered an antibacterial agent, and is also used to treat digestive upset, gas, menstrual disorders, congestion, and cough. Summer Savory treats issues of the digestive system, coughs and as a remedy for thirst in diabetics. These are just a few of the everyday common herbs with medicinal qualities, there are lots more that are just as easy to grow and use. Try them in your cooking and try a few for tea, either individually or in combination with other herbs. Remember that the healing process starts when you harvest the herbs with gratitude, it continues when you consciously processing the herbs with joy, and finally, when you use them with the intention of healing.