Thursday, 6 May 2010

How to Collect Seeds

Normally we buy seed in packets at the garden centre, supermarket, DIY shed or increasingly online through the Internet and the cost is not cheap. However, it doesn't have to be like that, there is another dimension to our great hobby. You can collect seed from the vegetables and fruit growing on your allotment, which is extremely satisfying and can save a fair bit of money. That last one always rings a bell for allotment holders!

The simplest seed to collect is that from the beans and peas and some of them, the Shell Beans, are grown just for their seeds. Pick the peas and beans as the pods begin to dry slightly and turn buff or yellow. However, if the weather is fine, they can be dried on the plant and picked off when the leaves are dropping.

If the weather outlook is poor, then cut the pod stems and hang them up in bunches somewhere dry and wait for the pods to turn brittle. Once they are dry, the pods snap open easily to release the seed.

You can see when broad beans are ready for drying because the place where the bean joins the pod - showing as a black line in the picture left - turns from green to brown or black. As the beans dry out they will darken either to brown or dark green.

With most other plants, choose a dry, windless day and select a healthy, pest-and disease-free plant, whose seedpods look as if they're about to split. Cut off the entire seedhead, and invert the entire seedhead upside-down into a paper bag. Close the bag without crushing the seedhead and label it, with both the name and date. Place the bag in a dry place for the seeds to ripen, and check the seeds' progress regularly. When most of the seedpods have opened, tip out the contents onto a dry surface and separate the seeds from any bits of seedhead still attached.

Store the cleaned seed in a small dry envelope, seal and label carefully. Keep in a cool, dry, airy place until ready to be used.

In general, seed sown from hybridised plants will not look like the parent plant and may have different coloured flowers, growth habit or vigour. This is especially true of F1 hybrids, which are the first filial generation plants from the crossing of two pure bred parent plants.

Although the offspring won’t be the same as the ones you grew, because they will have cross-pollinated with something else, they should still possess some of the traits of the parent plants. If you don’t mind getting unexpected results, it’s worth trying the seed to see what you get.

As a general rule, only collect from healthy, disease free plants and from plants with the best characteristics (in terms of colour, shape, habit and vigour). This will ensure the best quality seedlings.

Most seed of annuals and perennials is best collected when the plant is ready to drop it naturally. If seed is collected too early, it may not be mature enough to germinate once sown.

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