I'm the first to remind friends that we've still got a few weeks of summer left. But in the garden, there are signs of a shift in the season as plants start to wither. Rather than yanking spent plants out of the earth, however, you should be gathering their precious seeds for next year.
Abby Meadow, from the Tend Collective, grows heirloom vegetables in her Oregon garden. She took photographs of her own seed-saving endeavors, and says, "Growing seed can be simple and intuitive. Most plants, if let be, will do what they need to do to reproduce. 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 is Abby Meadow's advice for saving seeds:
Photography by Abby Meadow.
Above: This sage plant has given its show of beautiful purple blooms. Each dried blossom hides 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 seeds are ready to harvest when they can be easily rubbed away from the flower heads. At this point the seeds may still be green, but you can set them out to dry thoroughly before storage.
Above: Calendula seeds drying.
Above: Sometimes saving seeds takes patience, and a sacrifice of garden space. The Bull's Blood Beet plant is a great example: In the stage of seed-production pictured here, it's about 5 feet tall, and a leggy, floppy sprawl (and it's already looked this way for several months).
Above: But once the beet seed is ready to harvest, you won't need to save any more for a while. A few unruly months yields several years' worth of viable seed.
Above: Just leave peas and beans on the vine until the 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 then leave enough pods on the vine to accommodate my hopes for harvest. Once dried, the peas and beans inside 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. You can then use the seeds in cooking, or for planting in a new season. Cilantro flowers also add a delicate beauty to the garden and are loved by bees and other pollinating insects.
Above: Kale is another generous seed producer. One plant will grow enough seed for countless gardens full of kale. Let the pods dry on the plant, then snip them off and extract the seed. Honeybees are crazy for kale flowers, making them a great attraction for beneficial pollinators.
In addition to providing food for the future, Abby says that "saving seeds also provides pollen for insects during periods of the year that can otherwise be 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."
For advice on keeping your seeds safe for next year's planting, see Store Your Own Seeds. And now that we've got you thinking about seeds, read about this intriguing resource: A Bank for Rare Seeds in Petaluma.
N.B.: This is an update of a post published September 3, 2013.