PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Monday, September 10, 2012

Collecting Seed

annual, perennials, veggies, trees, shrubs...
Among other things keeping us hopping despite the shop closing for the season, we're seed collecting. I know there must be some way to keep this organized, but by this time in the season we're knee deep in paper bags, butter tubs, styrofoam cups, and plastic baggies of seed. In the kitchen, there's usually several cups of seed soaking by the sink, and there are dozens of baggies in the fridge. I've been trying to extract order from this chaos all week. I must clear my bench!

Can't move them under the bench--there's more seed down there. I'd shift it all to the desk, but could it be? More seed?!
One of our goals this year (chaos conquered) is to participate in the American Horticultural Society's seed exchange. The AHS was founded in 1922 and is 90, and has been an influence on gardening in America for lo these many years. Over the years they've funded an awards program, helped develop nomenclature standards for plants, been part of the Plant Hardiness Zone map, instituted youth gardening programs and more. I always enjoy reading their magazine, The American Gardener (free with membership). The seed exchange is open to all members, but those who donate seed get first pick from the catalog. But there must be order!

A few tips on seed collecting:
  • Label immediately--weeks down the road, you really are not going to be able to differentiate penstemon barbatus from p.parryi. I know.
  • Let seed ripen fully. One good sign is browning pods and capsules. Become familiar with what a particular seed looks like; the internet is a good resource. Unripe seed will not germinate. If we cut flower stalks that seem a little green, we hang them upside down in paper bags to finish drying.
  • Seed from fruit (any seed surrounded by pulp) should be cleaned. Washing helps remove germination inhibitors (we get great germination from New Mexico privet if we plant it right after cleaning).
  • Some seed does not keep and should be planted immediately but most will keep for years if stored properly. Seed that gets buggy (think hollyhock weevil) can go into the freezer. 
  • Veggie seed is pretty straightforward. Clean it; dry it. Some veggies like beets and celery are biennial; they set seed the second year, and will need to be protected over the winter if you want to save seed. If you planted more than one variety, say of corn, and they are in near proximity, they will cross pollinate. Plants grown from that seed will be hybrids (true of any plants close enough to interbreed).  Plant only one variety, keep well separated, or cover blooms.
We're hoping to repeat the seed starting course this winter; check facebook or the blog for announcments.

The National Agricultural Library has a pdf of an excellent resouce on seed germination--
Seed germination Theory and Practice.

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