I'm the first to remind friends that we've still got three weeks of summer to bask in, but in the garden there are signs of a shift in the season. As crops begin to go to seed, rather than bemoaning the end of the summer and yanking withered plants out of the earth, gather the precious seeds for next year.
Abby Meadow from the Tend Collective grows heirloom vegetables in her Oregon garden. She captured photographs of her own seed saving endeavors and explains, "Growing seed can be simple and intuitive. Most plants, if let be, will do what they need to, to reproduce themselves. Typically, a plant will fruit, flower, set seed, and then wither away. As the plants wither, the seed dries up, falls off the plant and sows itself for germination at a favorable time.
"In most cases, this is exactly how to approach saving seed for your own deliberate use. Allow the plant to take its full course, and when the seeds are fully mature and dried on the plant, it's time to take them inside to store."
Here are Abby Meadow's step-by-step instructions for saving seeds:
Photographs by Abby Meadow.
Above: This sage plant has given its show of beautiful purple blooms. In each dried blossom is a small cluster of seeds.
Above: Sage seeds, which are almost black, fall easily from the flower when they're ready to harvest.
Above: Calendula seed is ready to harvest when it rubs away from the flower head with ease. Calendula seeds are often still a bit green at this point and can be set aside to thoroughly dry before storage.
Above: Calendula seeds drying.
Above: Sometimes saving seeds can take patience, and a sacrifice of garden space. The Bull's Blood Beet plant shown above is a great example of this. In the stage of seed production pictured, it is about 5 feet tall, and a leggy, floppy sprawl (and it's been this way for several months).
Above: But when the beet seed is ready to harvest, it won't need to be saved again for a few years. A few unruly months yields a few years' worth of viable seed.
Above: Peas and beans are simply left on the vine until their pods are fully dried. Says Abby Meadow: "I make a rough determination of how many plants I'd like to grow the following year, and make sure to leave enough pods on the vine to accommodate my hopes for harvest. Once dried, the interior peas/beans can be removed and stored."
Above: Coriander (cilantro) seed is a delicious culinary addition when still green. But for seed harvest, it's best to allow the seeds to dry on the plant. The seeds can be used in cooking, or for planting in a new season. Cilantro flowers also add a delicate beauty to the garden bed and are loved by bees and other pollinating insects.
Above: Kale is another generous seed producer. One plant will grow enough seed to grow countless gardens full of kale. Allow the pods to dry on the plant, then snip them off and extract the seed. Honey bees are crazy for kale flowers, making them a great attraction for beneficial pollinators.
In addition to providing food for the future, Abby explains that "saving seeds also provides pollen for insects during periods of the year that can otherwise tend to be pretty sparse. When we save seeds, pollen-producing flowers are left on the plants for beneficial insects, extra seed can be left for the birds, and the cycle of food production can continue for us gardeners."
Looking for ways to store the seeds you've saved? See Store Your Own Seeds.