By Dawn Weber
Board Member-at-Large, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
The November gathering is almost here, and we want lots of participation in this year’s seed exchange. While you don’t need to bring seeds in order to take some home, more seeds means more sharing!
Never collected seeds from your garden before? Here’s how:
Where can I collect seed?
You must have permission to collect from private and public spaces, which can be complicated. Collecting in your own yard is easiest and best, as those are *your* plants, no permission required.
Are the seeds ready to be collected?
Is the plant dispersing the seeds on its own already? If so, it is ready for collection. Seed heads are ready when they’re brown and dried. Seed pods should start to split when you squeeze them.
All of the seed heads or pods on late-summer and fall-blooming plants may not be ready yet. Focus on the ones that are ready.
How do I collect the seeds?
Ironweed (Vernonia spp.), Coreopsis spp., and Liatris spp. seeds are easily collected. Others, like coneflowers, can be prickly as the seeds are the little bits between the spikes, where you need to break apart the seed head to get the seeds out. You can use pruners to remove the entire seed head or stem of the plant, in order to avoid uprooting the plant. Grass seeds are simple to collect by running your hand up the stem, bottom to top, gathering the seeds as you go.
Be sure to leave some seeds in place, as they are an important winter food source for finches, cardinals, sparrows, and other wildlife.
Wondering which part is the seed? Look up your plant at Prairie Moon Nursery where most seeds are pictured. If the exact species is not there, try something in the same genus (specis Echinacea purpurea vs genus Echinacea). They may be similar.
How do I dry and store the seeds?
Let the collected seeds dry out, from a few days to a week, in open paper bags or cardboard boxes. If you collect them after rain or other damp weather, they’ll need more time to dry. The seeds need airflow to ensure that they are dry, but keep them protected from direct wind (They could blow away.) and critters who may eat them.
When the seed heads and pods are dry enough, they will crumble between your hands. Break apart until all the seeds are released. Place seeds and chaff (the non-seed material) in a bowl or box and swirl or shake gently. Most of the larger chaff pieces will rise to the top and can simply be removed by hand.
Store in labeled paper bags or envelopes, in a dark cool, dry location. Avoid glass and plastic as they may promote growth of mold.
How do I package the seeds for the exchange?
Paper envelopes are best, labeled with your name, the common name of the plant, and the scientific name of the plant if you know it.
After the gathering we’ll have a follow-up post on methods of starting plants from seed.
Please share your seed gathering tips in the comment section below!