Seed security

By Zahrah Nasir

Obtaining a reliable supply of good quality seed can be extremely problematic here in Pakistan and one way around this is, when you have grown something that you consider to be worth increasing, or if an annual for replanting the following season, then simply save your own seed from existing plants.

Seed security Seed saving, it must be pointed out, is, on the whole, not a difficult prospect as long as you keep in mind that seed collected from Hybrid varieties, particularly if they are Fl hybrids, is unlikely to reproduce itself in its original form. Fl Hybrids can be successfully increased from cuttings as long as the plant variety, e.g., geraniums, lends itself to this form of propagation, but seeds from these may produce poor plants which always seem to have smaller blooms.

The same goes for vegetable seeds of Fl plants as these are most definitely smaller than their parent plants. It is always better to collect seeds from ‘Heirloom’ varieties of flowers and vegetables as, even though the majority of these are ‘open-pollinated’, which means that bees and other insects transfer pollen from one plant to another causing some ‘crossing’, in the process, you are still liable to get good reproduction for a number of years.

Some varieties of seeds are far easier to collect than others as there can be no mistaking as to when they are ripe. Larkspur must be one of the easiest flower seeds to collect as, when the flowers dry up and drop off, the elongated seed pod is clearly visible. At first it is light green and soft, then slowly, weather conditions being suitably dry, the pods turn various shades of brown, become crisp and papery, and if you forget to keep a regular check on them they will have split and dispersed there ‘kalonji’ like seeds before you’ve had time to collect them. To be honest I’ve just had a mad rush around my own garden to collect larkspur seeds as the ominous growl of approaching thunder, heralding rain, reminded me that this job must be done.

Once collected, on a dry day, seeds should be further dried off either in wicker baskets or on sheets of newspaper. I prefer the basket method as these allow for plenty of air circulation and are much easier to move around, if you wish, than millions of tiny-seeds rolling hither and thither on a hard-to-balance sheet of newspaper. It is okay to dry seeds off in direct sunlight as, let’s face it, this is generally their natural habitat. Whilst some seeds, larkspur, nigella and members of the amaranthus family are easy to spot, as are the curved-shaped light brown ones of calendulas, others can be a little more difficult.

Not everyone realizes that zinnias and cornflowers for example, whose petals dry to an almost fluffy consistency, are absolutely loaded with seed. With these and other similar varieties it is best to cut off the entire dry flower heads, put them into paper bags for ‘finishing off’ and then break up and scatter the heads, petals and all when the next planting season comes around. In fact, if you are not at all sure what the seeds look like and not all seeds actually look like seeds, then this is the best method to follow, always bearing in mind that everything must be perfectly dry prior to storage.

Birds and insects can cause havoc with some seeds, sunflowers being at the top of the list, everything with feathers and creepy crawlies just love them. One way around this, strange as it may look to puzzled observers, is to encase the faded, seed rich flower heads in tightly tied muslin, old nylon stockings or tights. This is not always 100 per cent successful but you should be able to save some seeds for the following year.

Some, but not all, vegetable seeds are easy to collect although not everyone has the patience. Pumpkins must be thoroughly ripe, then preferably stored in a cool, dark place for at least three months after harvesting in order to obtain quality seed. Extracting seed from bazaar purchased pumpkins is a very hit and miss affair, much depends on the season and hence on the location of origin as they ripen at different times in different parts of the country. Good pumpkin seeds are often quite plump and useless ones thin and brittle. You can check pumpkin seeds by opening one and checking if there appears to be anything inside or not. If the seed case is obviously empty then simply forget it.

Lettuce seeds are not very difficult to collect from the garden. Lettuce for seed suddenly starts to ‘bolt’ i.e., reach for the sky. The plants spiral upwards at an amazing rate, (as do cabbage and cauliflower), then they send out candles of yellow flowers which get tufts of feathery stuff sticking out of the top.

The seeds are attached to this fluff and a strong breeze blows them all over the place when they are fully ripe. These seeds are so tiny that it is best to cut off entire flowering heads, fluff attached of course, and stuff them into paper bags to dry off. Indeed leave them in the paper bags until next planting time and then scatter them where they are to grow, raking them in, or watering them in, as the case may be.

Lettuce and flowering cabbage must be one of the weirdest seeding plants around and will raise more than your own eyebrows I promise. Correct storage of seed is a vital factor. All seeds must be thoroughly dry, not a trace of moisture around and adding a few sachets of damp absorbent stuff, the little bags often found in medicine bottles, and whose correct chemical name totally escapes me at the moment (sorry), so adding this to your seeds, then removing and replacing them (after giving them a good dose of dry heat), can help to prevent your seeds from deteriorating.

Seeds, each variety carefully packed in airtight containers, preferably dark coloured ones, should then be stored in a cool, dry, dark place until they are needed. In very hot and humid conditions it can be best to pack all of your seeds in a sealable container, add extra insulation tape around the lid, and store it in the bottom of your fridge if you can find the room.

The problem with fridge storage though is, yes, you’ve guessed it, the notorious power cuts which if prolonged, as they often are and if you don’t have a back-up generator and most of us don’t, then condensation can get in and spoil the lot! Be warned, but please, don’t be put off. Also remember that excess seed can always be traded with other gardeners for varieties that you yourself didn’t previously have. Seed saving and seed swapping can be really good fun and a very social enterprise at that.

Source: The DAWN