Seed saving workshop – in a nutshell

Photos by Dave Vallis

Teresa and Andrew Widd, the project’s growing coordinators, welcomed us to the second free gardening workshop on 24th of September.

Similarly to the first workshop, our curiosity was piqued by a collection of mysterious goodies laid out behind them, ready for hands-on exploration during the session.

We weren’t kept in suspense for long as Teresa used this collection of seed heads and fruit to illustrate the vast variety of seed shapes and sizes.

Seeds are a start of life for most plants, she explained, containing a store of food to sustain the seedling. They are an important means of reproduction for most plants but some plants can be reproduced by other means such as cuttings for rosemary or division of bulbs for garlic.

Seeds, and fruit in which they are contained, provide an important means of dispersing  descendants away from the mother plant to prevent local competition for resources. Much of the variation in seed shapes and sizes is related to adaptation for modes of dispersal by animals (including humans;) ), wind or water. There are even some seeds which are dispersed explosively – for example, mature pods on lupins open and twist rapidly, ejecting seeds away from the mother plant with some force. Here is a great illustration of this process for gorse – and you can see it for yourself on a walk to Tentsmuir on broom plants just now. Knowing the plant’s dispersal mechanism helps with deciding on how and when to collect its seed. For example, those with explosive dispersal can be tricky to catch at the right moment, as you want to get at them just before the seed-pod turns into a mini-bomb!

Next, Teresa outlined reasons for collecting your own seed – here are those that caught our fancy:

  • You can save your favourite varieties, and varieties which may not be available through commercial seed suppliers, e.g. heirloom vegetables and fruit.
  • Seed set in your garden is likely to produce plants best adapted to your garden’s conditions.
  • You can save money on buying commercial seed which is increasingly pricey due to enhanced regulations in seed sales. Joining or organising local seed swaps is a great way to make even more savings and increase the variety of what you grow. In fact, a seed swap is planned as part of this workshop series next year so keep an eye on the workshop updates!
  • You help reduce resources used and carbon emitted in growing and distribution of seed by commercial producers.
  • You know where your seeds come from and how they were grown.

In the long term, saving local seeds preserves genetic variation and local adaptation in crops which is important in ensuring future food production under changed climatic conditions – read more about it here or watch a video here. Folk from the Fife Diet’s affliated Seed Truck project offer a Scottish perspective on this. Seed Truck has now morphed into Common Good Food and is taking its ideas for creating a local Scottish seed collection further with an invitation to a discussion about the project planned for early next year (postponed from the original November date). After discovering the wonders of seed saving at our workshop we may be quite tempted to join in…

Last but not least – seeds can also make great personal gifts! Margaret, one of the workshop participants, told everybody about her wonderful idea of using seeds from the perennial sweet pea in her garden as favours at her daughter’s wedding.

Teresa proceeded to issue some warnings about difficulties with collecting of and growing from seeds:

  • Often vegetables get picked before they can produce flowers and seeds.
  • It can be time-consuming.
  • Seeds must be stored in suitable conditions.
  • Seed produced by F1 hybrids may not be worth saving (click here for more on F1 hybrid from RHS)
  • Some seeds from open pollination will not retain the traits of the mother plant because they come from crossing with other varieties.
  • Home-saved seeds may not be as successful in germinating as those produced commercially and quality-controlled for viability (to test your seeds’ viability, sow a small sample and wait 14 days for germination).
  • Weather and plant condition may affect seed production.
  • Seeds deteriorate over time – this varies widely among plant species.

For all these reasons it is important to be selective about saving your seeds and do your research on individual plant varieties before you start your seed collection.

The good news is that if you can stop yourself from weeding, you may save yourself the hassle of seed collection and storage by simply waiting for the seeds to drop from your plants and germinate naturally. Lavender, nasturtiums and marigolds are excellent self-seeders. You can then transplant the seedlings to where you want them.

So how do we go about collecting seeds? Teresa described the process (see her brief notes here – PDF) and demonstrated her collecting equipment. It turned out to be nothing too fancy at all:

  • A large Tupperware container or cut off milk bottle bottoms for collection of seed heads ‘in the field’.
  • Scissors.
  • Gloves to protect you from spiky sead heads (e.g. vipers bugloss) or irritant seeds (e.g. rosehip)
  • Sieves with different sized holes to separate chaff/bits of the seed head from the seeds and get them as clean as possible.
  • Paper envelopes to store seeds in. A great excuse to ‘rescue’ the envelopes you get your bills in. Jessie and Teresa also demonstrated two ways for making your own origami envelopes from recycled bits of paper (if you’d like to play around with various designs, click here for a nice little collection). Another great tip from Teresa is to write out the label to be used at planting time and store it in the bag with the seeds.

We were quite keen on having a go at saving some wildflower seeds we collected during maintenance from PLANT’s Wildflower Border at Scotscraig Drive. We thought they would make quite a nice contribution to the planned Tayport seed swap or as little give-aways at PLANT events. But it turns out that we made a rookie mistake by sticking the seed heads in plastic bags for a week before trying to extract the seed. This meant that our samples were too wet and likely to go mouldy in storage. So no seed this time – but we’ve learned our lesson!

Saving seeds from fleshy fruit is a little bit more messy as you must get rid of the fruit pulp first. Teresa demonstrated a quick and easy way to do it for tomatoes. All you need is a ripe tomato, some tissue paper or paper napkins and a knife. Then:

  • Cut the tomato in half
  • Use the tip of the knife to dig out individual seeds from the fruit’s flesh
  • Deposit them on the paper and scrape away as much of the gelatinous substance off them as possible
  • Spread each seed to a separate spot
  • Place somewhere warm and dry to allow the seeds to dry and stick to the paper
  • Store as per other seeds
  • Use the paper as ‘seed tape’ – placing it directly in the seed tray or in the pot for germination (you may need to cut it to size first)

You can find plant-specific advice on seed collection and storage under links in Teresa’s brief notes from the workshop. We also came across this Royal Horticultural Society’s handy brochure on collecting seeds from your garden (download PDF). Before you consider collecting wildflower seed – refer to this code of conduct from Wild Flower Society.

Teresa advised that when buying your seeds, you may consider those produced by local suppliers as, similarly to your own collected seeds, they will be better adapted to the local growing conditions. She had a couple of suggestions:

  • Tesco has a local seed range (check individual packets)
  • Scotia seeds is excellent for native wildflowers (our PLANT Wildflower Border at the Fruit Tree Walk was based on their pollinator-friendly seed mix)

Do you have any tips on where else to get locally grown seed near Tayport? Any Tayport seed-saving stories you may want to share? Go ahead and tell us in the comments below.

Fruit Trees and Bushes Workshop Poster

Now – we don’t know about you but we can’t wait for our next workshop about fruit trees and bushes – Sunday, 18th October, 2:30-4:30pm at the Tayport Scouts Hall, Elizabeth Street.

P.S. We almost forgot to mention the fabulous cakes which distracted everybody during the workshop tea break – each made with some seasonal and Tayport-grown ingredients (click on the links for recipe cards): Linda’s gluten- and dairy-free cake with foraged brambles, Margaret’s easy meringues from her hen’s eggs, and Kaska’s Polish yeast cake with Jessie’s windfall apples. Yum!

2 comments

  1. […] Finally, I also learned that 1 to 2 posts a month for my garden diary might have been a bit of an ambitious goal – I wrote 5 posts over the 8 months. I don’t feel too bad though as I also managed a few gardening workshop and event writeups. Taking my time in researching the posts paid off though – I did learn loads about topics I covered in my own posts and reinforced and expanded my learning from the workshops I reported from (planning the plot, fruit trees and bushes, seed saving). […]

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