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How to save seeds like a pro

Thrive Urban Farm harvests, dries and saves seed from the garden for the upcoming flower season

By Heidi Bertish  | January 20, 2022 | Gardens

My grandmother had a treasure trove of a walk-in closet where she kept her table linen, crockery, glassware and cutlery. I vividly remember the careful packing away and subsequent polishing and unfurling as the seasons rolled through the year, and she laid her table accordingly: light voiles and floral Spode in spring and summer; weighty ombre linens in autumn and winter.

The drying room at Thrive Urban Farm is a botanical Aladdin’s cave, not unlike this closet of my youth. This time, the seasonal change is marked by a collection of papery seed heads that hang drying from the ceiling, an assortment of glass bottles that line makeshift shelving, and whimsically labelled, brown paper envelopes, all holding next season’s bounty - seed harvested from the flower gardens at Thrive Urban Farm.

Photo by Heidi Bertish

To save seed is to be a part of Nature’s process of natural selection. If you save seed from your largest Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) and replant them year after year, you eventually end up with seeds that produce plants on which all poppies are large. The same holds true for almost any other trait. Want Chocolate Lace (Daucus carota) that flowers early? Save seed from the first blooms that appear each season. Want disease-resistant plants? Then definitely do not save seed from those that are disease-infested. That is essentially what professional plant breeders do. You do not need to get too scientific about it, but, as a rule of thumb, only save seed from your healthiest, most robust plants.

Advice from owner-growers Susie le Blond and Tarryn Martin from the boutique nursery is to experiment. Begin with easy-to-grow flowers such as cosmos, ammi, sweetpeas, poppies and Scabiosa. Ensure your seeds are thoroughly dry before putting them away and, most importantly, label them. ‘When I first started, I would end up with a random collection of seedheads and pods in my pocket and no idea what they were! I would liberally shake them out into the garden and have to wait for them to bloom, creating happy chaos loved by bees.

Photo by Heidi Bertish

Now we are running a small flower farm, we need to be a bit more organised,’ says Susie.

‘There are many reasons for saving flower seed from your garden,’ says the duo, such as the higher germination rate, broader choice of seed and how economical it is, to name only a few of the benefits. ‘We love a bit of garden thrift, and saving seed, reusing and repurposing are all incredibly satisfying and help to reduce your carbon footprint. It is a small step, but it all adds up.’

One of their biggest joys is to share the largesse of the garden with friends, family and fellow seed savers. ‘There is something magical about holding a handful of seeds collected from your garden knowing that, collectively, you hold next season’s flower garden in your hands,’ Susie concludes.

Photo by Heidi Bertish

​​Save seed like a pro

  • Susie and Tarryn reveal their fail-safe process to seed-saving from flowers in pots or the garden
  • Let your flower heads go to seed. When they look like they are nearly ready, check on them daily as you want to harvest seeds just before the plant releases them.
  • Harvest seed in the afternoon on a hot, dry day. Sometimes, I let a few drop, some for the birds and others to see if they will self-seed. If I lose my collected seed, for any reason, there will still be some happy volunteers popping up in the garden.
  • Label, label, label. The
  • Remove seeds from the seed head, husks or pods and spread thinly on a baking tray or in a shallow cardboard box. Give them a week to ten days to make sure they are really dry. Drying out is essentially the final stage of ripening and ensures that the seed does not become mouldy in storage. A well-dried seed is viable. Adding toasted rice to glass storage jars helps absorb excess moisture.
  • Package and label your seeds. Include your harvest date as a fresh seed has the highest germination rate.
  • Store your seeds somewhere cool, dry and out of direct sunlight, then enjoy spring sowing for your next flower garden.

For more information on Thrive Urban Farm visit the Instagram page @thriveurbanfarm or call 082 570 7661.