I love Autumn – golden leaves on the trees, foraging for berries, preserving and pickling and cozying up to watch ‘Downton Abbey’. I have to admit though, I have found our first Autumn on the allotment rather sad. After a summer of sunshine, beauty and abundance on the plot, things are now, well, dying !
Mr O has a rather more pragmatic approach and chuckles at my melancholy at the sudden decline – it’s nature (he says), it’s Autumn, it’s the cycle of life. I feel like a child to say – but can’t the beautiful colours and skies and produce stay just a little bit longer ? But of course, they can’t. This week I have tried to look past the shriveled flowers, drooping leaves and browning landscape, and embrace the ‘reason for the season’. And what I have found, is seeds.
Unlike me (mourning the end of the productive summer), plants happily accept the end is nigh and are already planning for the future and how they will reproduce next year. A closer look at the flower bed and our last few peas and beans reveals a beautifully intricate system of seeds, being prepared in the dependable knowledge that life does and will go on. And this is where seed saving comes in.
Saving flower and vegetable seeds is beneficial to the gardener for several reasons. In the current economic climate, the first is that it can save you money – you will pay less for seeds next year, and you’re safe in the knowledge that your seeds have not been chemically treated (as many shop bought ones are). Secondly, it means you can choose to reproduce plants which have particular characteristics or which you particularly love – you can also grow less popular or ‘heritage’ plants which otherwise many face extinction. Thirdly, seed saving helps plants to naturally ‘evolve’ to your particular growing conditions – hopefully leading to healthier and stronger plants in the future.
Reading about seed saving, the basics sounded easy enough –
1) Leave seeds to dry on the plant (as far as is possible)
2) Harvest when the seeds are brittle, on a dry day
3) Dry for a further couple of weeks on a ceramic plate, turning every few days
4) Store labeled in brown paper bags in a cool dark place
But then words, rules and questions started falling out of books and into my rookie brain. Contrary to just collecting any seed and popping it into a bag there was more to it than I imagined. My main concern was that there are some seeds that shouldn’t be collected. What would happen if we collected the ‘wrong’seed ? What did F1, hybrid, open, cross and self-pollinated mean ? How did we know which of our plants was which ? Should some of our plants be in isolation ? Would we create a monster ?!
Far from an apocalypse, it turns out that saving the wrong seed may just result in poor performing plants or plants that may not be the same as their parents. I’m willing to take that chance if it means I don’t have to spend Autumn with my head in an encyclopedia. We’ve started with flowers and we’ll go from there …
What seeds have you saved this year ?