In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
At this time in fall, most plants are either finished or on the wane, but many have seedheads still in evidence. This is a great time to collect seeds for starting plants next season.
Collect or Purchase
You can collect wildflowers, perennials, annuals and vegetables as well as trees and shrubs. Of course you can also purchase seeds, but what how pleasant to walk in the woods or garden on a nice fall day and collect seeds of those plants that are special to you.
Collecting your own seed is easy to do, but you need to know, though some research, whether a plant can be propagated by seed. Some produce sterile seeds that won%%%t germinate and some produce no seeds at all. Also, you need to know if the seed is ready for collection. The embryo inside the seed must be fully developed and the seed must be at the right moisture level. Some seeds are clear about these characteristics but others are not. Collecting green seeds that are not harvest-ready will be frustrating because they won%%%t germinate.
One other word of caution: if you intend to collect seeds on private land, get permission from the land owner first. You certainly won%%%t hurt a plant by collecting seed, but just use good judgment so you don%%%t get thrown off the land brusquely.
Label, Label, Label
The best way to collect is to take a basket of small plastic or paper bags, a permanent marker, scissors or pruners and gloves. That way as you take seeds, you immediately label them. This is critical because I guarantee that you won%%%t remember what was what when you get back home.
Collect Whole Seedheads
For seeds that don%%%t shatter, simply collect the seedheads or fruits. These can be dry like maples or wet like tomatoes. For seedheads that do shatter, you can simply shake them into a bag. You can collect pine seeds by putting several cones in a bag and then setting the bag in a warm, dry spot for a few weeks. The cones will open up as they dry and then you can shake the seeds out.
Collect Ripe Fruits
For fleshy fruits, collect ripe fruits and then cut them open or mash them. If the pulp doesn%%%t release the seeds easily, scoop it out and mix with water. Mashing and swishing it around will often release the seeds which will sink while the pulp floats. A trick with tomatoes is to crush the tomatoes in water and then let it sit for about three days. The pulp will ferment and give the tomato seeds a natural coating that prevents rotting. Pour off the water and pulp and collect the seeds that sunk. Dry them on paper towels or a cookie sheet, covering them to prevent blowing away.
Store Seeds Correctly
Once your seeds are collected and very dry, put them in labeled paper or plastic bags, slip hem inside a glass canning jar with a tight lid and store them in the refrigerator.
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