Yesterday I went to part 2 (of 2) of my Organic Gardening class. I didn’t actually learn a whole lot, but I found it interesting and inspiring nonetheless.
Towards the end of the class we talked briefly about seed propagation (most topics were only briefly covered so this one wasn’t short-changed). Andrew (the instructor) showed us a few of the plants he’d harvested from one of the community gardens recently and how to collect the seeds from them; after drying the seed pod thoroughly (like on paper in a dry, well ventilated, shady spot) just pull out the seeds. Then he let us have a go and said we could take some home.
I didn’t hesitate, I grabbed a handful of each: kale, Russian chamomile, radish, Jap pumpkin and snake beans. I mainly grabbed the plants or pods and brought them home to harvest. I’ve made up a few envelopes from scrap paper and labeled them with the plant type and date and will plant the seeds over the coming months.
Andrew’s opinion is that we should collect seeds for several reasons. Firstly, the flowers that come before the seeds attract bees into our gardens. Secondly, if we have a particular plant that is thriving, it makes sense to try to grow its offspring the next year. Thirdly, we know it’s organic (or at least how it’s been treated). And finally, it’s free. I could find no fault with any of these concepts.
I’ve already started collecting my own seeds (parsley with huge success, sunflowers with moderate success and capsicum as yet untried). I’m kicking myself for cutting down all that healthy basil in its prime – I should have let one or two plants go to seed. I do have one plant in the herb bed left and I’m going to watch it like a hawk. Ditto the sage, which I really would like more of. And pretty much everything. It would be very cool to get to where I don’t need to buy seeds.
Of course, like everything else about gardening, there are caveats. I have done a tiny bit of research on the internet and it seems not all plants are easy to propagate by seed collection. Avoid hybrid plants as they don’t reproduce true to form (I think my sunflower was a hybrid which is why its offpring has multiple flowers). Then there apparently is a problem with plants that cross-pollinate. Unfortunately kale, radish and pumpkin fall into this category so my results might be startling. I’ve read some tips about taping flowers closed until you can pollinate with the flower of your choice (seriously) with a warning that you need a large enough population to avoid inbreeding (hemophiliac radishes?), but that is going way too far for me. Mother Earth News has a lot of information (more than I can face reading right now) and are happy to share it with anyone and everyone. I’m still perusing the piles of information (including free magazines, tables and articles) on the internet. But I suspect I’m just going to give it a go and, when it works, celebrate with a healthy meal.