This year I was so pleased with the fabulous cos ‘Freckles’ lettuce that I grew, that I decided that I’d have a go at collecting seeds from my crop after they’d started to bolt.
I planted a fair few lettuces,
so my seed collecting patch took up a fair amount of space too.
As I started to sift through the seed casings, I realised that my seed collecting was going to take me a fair old while. Not only do you have to divide the outer brown covering from the seeds, but each seed is attached to its own little fluffy parachute, so this has to be carefully detached too (as you don’t want to leave any organic matter other than the seeds in its envelope, as it could rot and the moisture destroy the viability of your seeds). After about half an hour, I started to get itchy, thinking about all the other things I could be getting on with in the garden.
After about an hour, I did have a good pile of seeds, but I still felt a tad resentful about the time I’d spent sorting the seeds to get to my haul. And that got me wondering about how seed companies collect their seeds.
I called Joy at Sea Spring Seeds (a small seed company offering a choice selection of veg seeds) to ask how they collected their seeds. Apart from their Chilli seeds (in which they specialise and offer 40 different varieties), they buy in all the rest from seeds manufacturers. Whilst we agreed that collecting some seeds (I love collecting seeds from beans, sweet peas and hollyhocks) was a worthwhile project, she advised against seed collecting for some plants for a number of reasons. Firstly, letting your plants go to seed can take up valuable growing space and can lead to weed problems as you ignore the space around plants going to seed whilst tending more critical veg production. This is true. I could have pulled these plants up a couple of months ago and had a whole bed of tasty mustard leaves happily growing by now!
Also, large seed manufacturers have specialist drying equipment for the seeds, so that the seeds are dried correctly before being stored and will maintain their viability. Bad drying and storage of your seeds (always store your seeds in a paper envelope in a cool, dry space), could mean that seeds could have lower germination rates when it comes to sowing them. And then there’s the question of hybrid seeds that will never come true as they have 2 different parents. Blimey, this is where things can start to get complicated (unless you want to be truly experimental). If you’re after a specific hybrid plant and don’t want to waste your growing year on a non-too-certain outcome, then it’s best to stick to bought seeds.
All in all, although there is a thrill about collecting your own seeds (I did really enjoy discovering what a lettuce flower and seed head looked like), certainly for lettuces and other more fiddly seed heads, I think I’d rather pay my £2 and save my precious time and space for growing more veg.