Harvesting Seed is easy once flowering has finished.
As well as being sold loose in packets, seeds are now available in two forms-pelleted seed and tape seed-that provide ease and accuracy of sowing.
Each pelleted seed is coated with a decomposable material, usually clay. This increases its size and makes it easier to handle. With precise spacing possible, there is no need for thinning. Many seeds are now pelleted, including small ones like alyssum and antirrhinums.
Tape seed consists of a line of evenly spaced seeds held between two twelve millimetre wide strips of decomposable paper or plastic material. The tape is laid in a twelve millimetre deep furrow, anchored with small lumps of earth to maintain the accurate spacing, and covered with another twelve millimetres of soil.
Use a cone of newspaper: To gather seeds from your garden, roll up two sheets from a broadsheet newspaper to make a large cone with a wide opening at the top. Fold and secure it at the bottom to keep the seeds in place. Shake the plant over this cone, then fold over and seal the top and label with the name of the plant.
Paper bag : Put a paper bag over flowers that have finished blooming and secure it by binding round the stem of the plant with a piece of string, raffia or wire. Once the stems have dried out, cut just below the tie, turn the bag upside down and shake the plant so that the seeds fall into it. Label the bag immediately.
- Never store seeds in a plastic bag - it will not let air through and the seeds will rot.
An umbrella: To gather the maximum number of seeds in record time, shake seed-bearing stems above an up-turned open umbrella.
Drying is essential : To reduce the risk of mould, air-dry seeds thoroughly on newspaper before storing them.
Safe, dry storage: Old tablet bottles are perfect for storing seeds. The drying agent in the cap will protect them from damp. You could also use old film canisters, or put the seeds in envelopes or paper bags and peg them to a line in a dry, well-aired space such as a garage.
- Collect the little bags of absorbent silica gel that come with electrical or computer equipment. Drop them into the tightly sealed boxes in which you store your seeds.
- To keep off weevils and rodents, add a mothball to the storage container.
Use a fine mesh sieve: For fine, small seeds such as antirrhinum and petunia, put the ripe, dry flower heads into an old kitchen sieve. Rub gently over the mesh, and the seeds will fall through. Some will be spoiled by this treatment, but there are so many that you can afford to waste a few.
Check the cupboard: Don't store seeds in an MDF cupboard as MDF emits formaldehyde, which shortens the life of seeds.
Many birds eat seedlings. The best method of protecting young plants against them is to insert low stakes around the perimeter of the bed , tie black thread to one of them and loop it criss-cross over the bed.
If cats or dogs are a nuisance, keep them away by sprinkling a proprietary animal repellant over the bed.
Many common garden plants set plenty of seed, which is ready for collection when the pod or seed head dries out. Always collect seed from the best specimens only.
Hardy annuals: Plants: in this group that produce an abundance of seeds include forget-me-not (Myosotis), honesty, love in-a-mist (Nigella damascene), marigold (Calendula) and poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii. Seeds from these plants are easy to collect before they fall and can be sown where you want to grow them, or given to gardening friends.
Annuals or biennials: Wallflowers (Erysimum), pansies, poppies, nasturtium (Tropaeolum) and nemesia all set good quantities of seed, which can be sown when required.
Perennials: Seeds of primula and cyclamen are best sown as soon as they are ripe, when they will germinate quickly. lf stored and dried, germination takes a long time. Lupins , Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) and evening primrose are when short lived and are best started from seed every few years.
Sweet peas: These plants also readily set seed, but remember that the offspring will not be exactly the same as the parent plant. This is particularly true when growing hybrid plants, which often have specific colours and forms only when the same parents are used. This plant variability is caused by cross-pollination by flying insects, such as bees. However, this has often resulted in the accidental production of a new improved variety, so there is no harm in seeing what comes up.