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Seed Harvesting

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

How to: Seed harvesting


Hey everyone! Today I will be covering the topic of seed harvesting. I'll be going over reasons to collect, important information to remember, viability, when to collect, and the how to of harvesting and storing.


prairie drop seed, ornamental grass

Reasons to collect seed

There are many reasons to collect seed. Here are a few that standout...

  • Save money- Collecting your seeds after the season ends help you save money on plants & seeds for the next year.

  • Faster than vegetative propagation

  • Less likely to transmit disease

  • Spreads more natives


Some important information to remember

  • Some seeds won't be viable due to genetics and sterilization. This is something within the plant that we cannot visibly see.

  • Seeds from modified plants tend to revert back to their original form.

  • Where you collect your seed from is important. For the best seed, collect from a plant that has been properly cared for and watered during the growing season (drought causes hollow seeds).

  • Some seeds can be saved for awhile and some seeds need to be planted right away after harvesting- many trees are this way. Make sure you research the plant before taking the seed.


Joe-Pye-Weed flower head
Joe-Pye-Weed flower head

Viability

The weight of the seed is very important, the heavier the seed, the longer viability time it has. Morning glories and geraniums both have a long-life expectancy. Vegetables, flowers, conifers, fruit trees, and grains have a medium life expectancy. One thing to keep in mind, each year that passes the germination rate decreases.


When do I collect seed?

It’s a good sign when you can remove the seed pod/seed from the plant with ease. Remove pods when they reach a mature size (full and firm). If you wait too long, the seed pod will start to split while on the plant. For flowers, you will want to collect seed when the flower head is completely dry. If you cannot wait until then, harvest and store in a paper bag until dry.


milkweed pods
Milkweed Pods


Harvesting: Vegetable seeds

Tomato Ombre
Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

When it comes to harvesting vegetable seeds, you want to make sure the fruit is ripened all the way. Cut the fruit open, remove the seeds, wash and lay out to dry.

Once dry put into a seed pouch and store. Taproot vegetables (carrots, radish, beets, etc..) are complicated and sometimes cannot be harvested in the first year, or need optimal conditions.




Harvesting: Herb seeds

herbs
Basil, chives, cilantro, dill, cuban oregano, ginger mint

When it comes to harvesting herb seeds, it is best to harvest the flowers once dry, but if that is not an option, snip off the flower and put in a paper bag to dry.




Harvesting: Annual seeds

You can harvest annual seeds by pinching off a flower, gently remove the petals to reveal the seed pod in the center, then let dry and store. Some annuals will put off pods, nasturtiums, petunias, impatiens, 4 o'clock are just a few.


Zinnia flowers Dried seed head Removed petals Zinnia seeds


Harvesting: Perennial seeds

You typically can harvest seeds from perennials by the pods they produce, or the dead flower head.

  • Pods- (ex. Butterfly weed) harvest the pods when they come to a mature size, set out to dry. Once dry they will pop open, you can take out the seeds and store in a pouch.

  • Flower heads- (ex. Echinacea) wait until the seed head has completely dried (if you cannot, clip head and store in paper bag). Once dry, you can remove seeds from the head and store.

Echinacea:

Bloomed Echinacea Halfway to harvesting seed Seed is ready to harvest

Seed head w/o petals Seeds harvested Empty seed head


Butterfly Weed:

Butterfly Weed flower Pod Pod ready to harvest Pod too late to harvest


Storing seeds

A dark environment is better than light when it comes to storage. Most seeds don’t like airtight containers, so use paper seed pouches or normal envelopes. It's very important to store in an area with low humidity and a low temperature (ex. basement, closet, pantry, etc.).


Phew! That was a lot of information! It's a lot easier than it seems though, so don't be afraid to give it a try. I wish you luck and hope all goes well. Just have fun with it!!


Happy planting:)

-Megan






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