I’ve started saving seeds. I wasn’t planning on it, but when you go away for the last week and a half of June, some decisions get made for you. I left orderly rows of leafy greens and roots. I came back to anarchy.
The lettuce had bolted. So had the bok choy and last year’s leeks. And so had this downright tumescent radish.
My community garden has a plastic baggie pinned to a bulletin board where you can dump old seed packets. Just to fill in space where some of my kohlrabi had failed, I planted some seeds from this baggie. They were for some daikon-like radish packaged for 2010. I wasn’t expecting much, so I threw in the whole packet’s worth of seeds. And they all germinated.
I thinned them down to just a few and picked most of them when they were a reasonable size. They looked just like white carrots but had a serious, almost peppery bite to them. This last one I left in the ground before my vacation, and by the time I came back it was in full flower. I let it go until the flowers turned to seedpods and the seedpods started to be eaten by birds. I yanked the whole thing out of the ground, then, and brought it inside to dry. I hung it upside down in the cellar from a ribbon the cat likes to play with, because there was no string on hand and I couldn’t just leave this monster draped across the kitchen table.
If you’re doing the math, you may have figured out by now that this thing has been hanging in my basement for quite a while. You’re right. I’ll admit that I’ve found the prospect of dealing with it daunting, and knowing that something’s dried and not going anywhere is fantastic for procrastination. Now that I’ve gotten my act together and discovered that seed collection is all the work of a few minutes, I’m planning on going at it full throttle and becoming that old seed saving woman in Mad Max.
I dragged the whole plant upstairs and returned the ribbon to where the cat last left it. The radish had formed a big network of spreading twigs, and at the end of each one was a seed pod. I quickly found that the easiest method was to break all these pods off first to get the huge, brittle structure out of the way.
While breaking off pods, I found one bunch of flowers that had been blooming when I picked the radish and dried with the rest of it. The flowers were so delicate when they were blossoming, and I can’t believe how well they were preserved. Maybe next year I’ll grow a couple just for the flowers. I wrote a post recently for Mother Earth Living about cutting and preserving bolted vegetable flowers. Go have a look if you’re in the mood.
Once I’d collected the pods, my task suddenly seemed a lot less daunting. They were dry as a bone and split apart easily in my fingers.
In just a few minutes, I had a healthy little pile of seeds. Sometimes gardening seems like magic to me. I often say that if someone told me you could make unlimited food by sticking a little bit of old food in the ground for a while, and I didn’t know that’s how it actually works, I’d never believe it. A single seed sat in the ground for a while and made all of these new seeds. How can that be right?
Anyway. I tucked all my radish seeds into an envelope labelled Big White Radish because I have no recollection of the real name on the packet, and I got to work on some other plants I’ve had lying around drying for far too long. This is a bok choy, another surprise success from the ancient seed baggie. A lot like the radish, it produced these branched seed pods for the convenience of the collector.
I did my best with a spinach plant I’ve been drying since forever, but I’m worried the seeds may not have matured. I pulled the plant at the time because it was stone dead, but the seeds had to be pried off with force and don’t want to break apart from their clusters readily. Are the seeds too young, or have I just been spoiled with these pod-producing plants? We’ll find out in the spring.
That’s my seed arsenal for the moment. That and a bunch of chives I saved when I noticed the chive flowers I’d picked were dumping seeds onto the kitchen table. It’s no fail-safe against the fall of civilization, but it’s mine. I could have let the leeks die to produce seeds, too, but I picked and dried them still in bloom because they’re just so cool. I can buy leek seeds.