While finishing dinner last night, I mentioned how dark the sky looked. Other than a few stars shimmering just above the mountain, the rest of the sky was inky black. Looking at the clock, Neal commented, “it's already dark and it's only 8:30.” At our latitude, the midsummer light stretches late into night, well past 10 pm. If there’s light, there’s time to work on projects. So for most of the season, it’s hard to get dinner cooked and eaten, and for us to be in bed at a reasonable hour.
At this point in the season, I’m plum wore out, as Grandma would say. And, I'm a bit relieved when the days start to shorten. But it's bittersweet knowing just how dark our winter days will be in the deep of it.
This time of year, there is a noticeable shift in the frenzy of work. A few weeks ago, I was fertilizing, weeding, pruning, reseeding, replanting, staking up the garden. Now, my focus has shifted to heavy harvesting, cover cropping spent beds, and collecting seeds for next year.
At first, seed saving was intimidating to me. Seeds are teeny-tiny and the plants can be ginormous and I can be a bull-in-a-china-shop klutz. The garden is a jungle at this point and the thought of trying to navigate the mass of green to harvest those itty-bitty miracles felt overwhelming. But. It turns out, it is extremely easy to save seeds. And low consequence.
Most of the time, its simple to shake, brush, or pluck the seeds. All those return envelopes that come with junk mail? They are perfect for collecting and storing seed (= less recycling to take out = time & effort saved!). And I’ve found it’s quite meditative to stand among the Zulu Prince daisies and cosmos or lettuce and onions to shake, shake, shake the seeds into their envelope. 90% of the time, it goes well.
The few times it doesn’t? Yes, it is a bummer to accidentally knock over a packet of freshly culled seeds. (Ever tried to pick up lettuce seeds dumped all over? It’s a test of patience and microscopic eyesight.) On the flipside, it’s a fast way to early sow those radish, greens, or flower seeds in a spot of soil that could use a bit of help becoming less compacted and weedy. I’d much rather have a random patch of green onions pop up then pigweed. And having volunteer lettuce or kale plant pop up is VERY encouraging in early spring.
To harvest, gather your supplies: envelopes, a few ziplock baggies, a pen or pencil, clippers.
Then start collecting. Not all seeds will be ready at the same time (thankfully!). Collect from plants that have fully dried out at the flower or seed head. Select your plant, then label your envelope with the name of the plant, the original seed source, the year, and any other special info that will help you when planting next season. Depending on the plant, you may be able to bend the seed head into the envelope and simply shake or brush the seeds off the plant. Others, like marigolds, you can pluck off a seed cluster and drop it into the envelope, easy-peasy. With other plants, like green onions, clip the dried seed head into a ziplock baggie, and then massage the seeds out. Once massaged out, you can put the emptied seed heads into your compost and pour the seeds into an envelope. If I am collecting for my own use, I don’t worry too much about cleaning out all the chaff.
Now and again while I’m collecting, I’ll take a pinch or handful of seeds and throw them into an untamed patch of the garden where a bit of color or random veggie would be a welcome volunteer. As I toss the seeds into the wilds, I think of it as an offering to Nature and offer up my words and thoughts of thanks for all she provided in this growing season.
Here’s what we are gathering at the moment:
- Green and bulb onions (wintered over from last season)
- Carrots (also wintered from 2019)
- Lettuce, endive, kale, poc choi
- Calendula, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, zebrina, feverfew, valerian… all the flowers!
- Oregano, thyme, basil, dill… all the herbs!
New this year, I’m excited to help start a seed bank at our local public library. I had plans to start this in the springtime, but when COVID hit, packets were flying out the doors of seed companies faster then they could keep up with. Companies that would usually provide donations were unable to do so, and I hadn’t planned ahead of time to save my own en masse for the bank. Its never too late though and things are looking good for the 2021 season.
Keep an eye out at the Garden Valley District Library for the seed bank to be available. And start saving those seeds! Now’s the time!