Tag Archives: seed saving

Seed Saving for River of Herbs

This morning we were able to eat breakfast on the roof because the weather was so beautiful. After quite a while, when the morning dew had thoroughly dried off the plants, I set about some herb seed collecting with my toddler daughter. Here she is doing a very good job of rubbing dry Chive heads, to release the tiny black seeds into a paper bag. She loved it and we collected lots of seeds in a very short time.

Seeds are usually the cheapest way to make new plants and we will need lots of seeds to make a River of Herbs in and around Amsterdam. So if you are interested in; building up your own herb seed supply, adding more herbs to urban spaces or simply to eat some edible herb seeds – now is a good time to start collecting! I intend to make up little mixed herb seed packets, to sprinkle in prepared Urban Herb Meadow locations.

Different plants flower and seed at different times so keep your eyes open for maturing seed heads on plants you know and keep a clean paper bag or two in your pocket/ bag when you are out and about. You never know when a perfectly ripe Hollyhock seedhead may surprise you!

Today we collected seeds from:
Welsh Onion

I’m off to the park now and hope to find some Garlic mustard seed to save in labelled paper bags. I love eating the leaves of the plant and would like to see it growing in some Urban Herb Meadows in town.

If you decide to collect seed, make sure you only collect when they are bone dry. They will mould and be useless if they are at all damp. With some seeds it’s easiest to shake the seed head into your bag, allowing the ripe dry seeds to fall into the bag. With others, it’s best to snip off part or all of the seed head with scissors, before sorting it out. Generally if it needs snipping off the plant, its not thoroughly dried out but use your judgement. Get them home in a paper bag and then take osome time to pick through and separate out the seeds from debris. Label the seed bags, seal them up and set aside in a p,ace where they will remain fairly cool and very dry until the planting season.

If you want to help with the River of Herbs then also consider the suitability of what you are saving from the project. Plants need to be non invasive (e.g. Mint wouldn’t be such a good idea unless in a hole-free container where it can’t easily escape, Japanese knotweed is clearly a no no as it comketely takes over/ obliterates wherever it grows) and not poisonous. The plants also need to be insect pollinated as one of the main points of the project is to provide insect friendly corridors in and around the city.

I think it unlikely that on your seed saving missions you’d remove all the seed from a plant but just in case it needs mentioning – remember the foraging rules, take only what you need, leave lots and lots! Also, please don’t harvest seed from annuals and biennials growing wild as they rely on them to regenerate next year. The Garlic mustard I am about to collect is a biennial but I’ll take it from locations where it will be completely strimmed away very soon – such as lamp post bases in concrete.

Good places to collect herb seed, from plants you have already identified are:
Your own pots, tubs and garden,
Untended geveltuinen (pavement gardens),
Public places where the council are sure to mow or strim

Good luck with your seed collecting and do let me know how you get on.

Saving Herb Seed

Buying seed is a recent thing.  Most gardeners used to routinely save seed from their best annual and biennial herbs and vegetables.  Seed saving is an easy and beneficial thing for Urban Herbologists to do, here’s why and how:

Why save herb seed?

  • It saves money and increases self sufficiency.
  • Saved seed is well adapted to your location. It has survived the local weather, soil type and pests.
  • You can save from plants with interesting characteristics.
  • Saved seed can be shared and swapped.
  • It increases plant variation, increasing the local gene pool and biodiversity.

How to save herb seed:

Plants use different methods to spread seed far and wide to new and favorable locations.  Most rely on the wind, animals, water, gravity or an explosive force to disperse their seeds.  The method your chosen herb uses will dictate how you should set about collecting its seed.

  • Sew your annual or biennial herbs as usual.
  • Select a few of the strongest plants for seed saving.  Use the other plants of that type for your herbal needs.
  • Grow the seed savers on to maturity. Allow them to flower and for their bare seeds or fruit to develop freely.
  • Mature the seed.  Allow it to ripen and dry on the plant as much as possible.
  • Collect the ripe fruit or seeds before they disperse naturally. This may involve:
    Shaking ripe, dry seed-pots into a paper bag (Nigella),
    Pulling dry seeds out of dead flower heads (Calendula),
    Cutting off dry seed heads (Allium),
    Cutting off ripe but unexploded pods (Legumes, pea family),
    Cutting off and into ripe fruit and scooping out the seeds (Rosa)
  • Clean the seeds. This may involve sorting or sieving seeds from plant debris or removing a soil covered outer layer (garlic).
  • Dry the seeds. Seed allowed to dry on the plant, in warm dry weather, may be enough. For better results also lay them on a sheet of kitchen roll or newspaper, in a dry room for a few days.  Seed collected from wet fruit needs extra care.  Super dry rice can be used to effectively suck moisture out of seeds. I’ll post an easy method for this later this week.
  • Pack and label your seeds when you are certain they are bone dry.  I use ordinary envelopes or small glass jars.  Label the name, date and where you collected the seeds from on the packet.
  • Store your seeds in a relatively cool, dry and dark place.  Some take storage further by freezing their seed, this can prolong their viability by several years, if done with very dry seed. My freezer is otherwise occupied.
  • Share and Grow on your saved seed.  Don’t forget to plant your seed the following year. It may keep for longer but reduce the risk of losing your seed stock by growing some of your saved seed and then repeating the cycle.  You are likely to save far more seed than you need so consider sharing or swapping seed with other Urban Herbologists.

If you are thinking of collecting and saving seeds from the wild please don’t. Wild annual herbs rely on seed dispersal for their survival.

Kew Millenium Seed Bank provides a wealth of information about why global seed saving is important and how they manage their collection.  The Real Seed Catalogue and similar organisations, can help by providing “real seed” to get you started.  Seed collected from the plants you grow from “real seed” will be viable and reliable, unlike that from many hybrid varieties often sold by the large seed companies.  Hybrids often yield sterile seed or nonuniform seed.