The season is winding down now. The gardens are looking really ragged, with brown flowers wilting. I try to leave as much of the old growth in the garden to overwinter. This protects the habitat of many beneficial insects and small animals. Some folks say they're pests but even our red wasps have their purpose eating insects that would otherwise eat my herbs, flowers and veggies. So, we'll let the gardens lay fallow over the winter. The plants will compost where they are and a lot of them will reseed themselves right where they are.
What I am actually harvesting is seeds, flower heads, interesting grasses, sunflower heads, and any other interesting plant material I find around the farm. Then, I make wreathes out of them. I dried flowers like Cosmos, Calendula and Statice, among others and harvested all the curly dock that I could find. Add in naturally growing wheat from hay the animals let fall and a few dried peppers and hang the result to air dry.
But, back to seeds. If you deadhead your flowers, just leave them to dry on the plants until they are brown and crispy. Frequent reseeders give up their seeds easily - like Calendula. If you leave it alone, you will have calendula for years but if you grab the seed heads - you can also plant new beds and best of all, share your seeds with other gardeners.
I wait until about half a plant is brown before I start pulling off the seed heads. For Hollyhocks, for instance, the seeds grow in circular pods that start out green and go to almost black when they're ready to harvest. Don't wait too long, those pods will burst open and spread the seed freely. Pluck off those dried brown pods and crush them over a rimmed sheet pan or any shallow bowl.
I like to do this step outside on a mildly windy day. As I crush the pods, I'll toss them lightly in the air and catch the seeds. As this happens, the chaff (the light pieces) will blow away but the seeds fall back into the tray. I will grab handfuls and let them fall slowly through my fingers and even more chaff will go into the breeze. I do this until most of the seed is clean. I pack the seeds into a plastic ziplock and mark the bag with the type of seeds and the date that I collected it.
Some seeds are like little timebombs of seedy goodness. Let an onion go to seed and you get this lovely white powderpuff with tiny black seeds. I watch them every day and look for those blossoms to dry. They don't change color, they just get papery and one day, I'll see the black seeds inside peeking out and I know it's time. I don't just cut these off, though. I will grab a brown paper sandwich bag and slip it over the head. I'll tie the bag around the base of the flower and then cut it off. That way, the seeds don't slip away while I'm trying to collect them.
For some plants, you need to ferment the seeds. For tomatoes, put the seeds and pulp both in a jar half full of water. Close the jar and shake until the gel comes of the seeds. Uncover and replace the lid with a paper towel or napkin and a rubber band. Wait until you see a little light mold on the top, takes two or three days. Pour off the mold and most of the water. Rinse the seeds until the water is clear of debris and spread them out to dry on a paper towel. Be sure to mark the towel with the name of the seed. You might think you will remember - trust me, you won't.
Once the seeds are dried, I place about a tablespoon of seeds in a paper packet, market it with the variety of plant, the origin, the date I saved the seeds. I use the template below to make my packets - and then the fun begins - SHARING THE SEEDS WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY!! If you would like to exchange seeds with me or get a supply to grow your own garden, leave me a comment and I'll get back to you with details! Do you want to join the seed exchange?
Want to visit? Windy Thistle is open until 10/31/21. Our Sunday life skills classes still continue. They are $40 a student and last from noon to 4pm. October 30th is a FREE event day, see more below. Class size is limited, so be sure to reserve your place as soon as you can! NEXT WEEK 10/10 - Canning Beef Stew & Applesauce. NO one has signed up and now is the time to let me know you want to attend. We'll be making both pressure canned and water bath canned goodies and you do get to take home jars of home made goodness of your own. 10/17 Soap as Gifts. We'll be making soaps specifically to give away as holiday gifts. These soaps will be ready to use by 12/10 - making them the perfect gift and you have the pleasure of knowing exactly what went into them and how it was done. No kids at this class. 10/24 Candy Making - Southern treats - PRALINES and DIVINITY - they aren't fudge, but they are so close. Learn some neat techniques for making candy and take some home to enjoy later! 10/30 Chicken Processing - we need to process seven chickens, so we'll show you how to humanly slaughter and clean a chicken. This is a free event. Come and watch and ask questions. 10/30 FREE EVENING EVENT! Big Halloween Bonfire, S'mores and Scary Stories in the evening. Bring your lawn chair and byob. If you aren't expecting kids at your house, join us at our house for a spooky evening telling tales. (weather dependent)