Seed Collecting

Seeds and Seed Collecting
Seed collecting and trading has become a fine art for me. I feel it is important to offer my seed customers new and interesting things and to keep current with the newest developments in ornamental plants. I do, of course, keep and dry some of our own vegetable seeds, but I also harvest seeds from the perennials and annuals that we like to grow and trade them to other gardeners around the world. This way we can get a wide variety of interesting and hard to find plants for the garden. The US does not allow plant material across it's borders but I haven't had a problem with seeds, although I've read that others have. Trading plants and seeds with other, mostly European, countries has not been a problem, but shipping costs can be prohibitive for plants.

I collect the seeds and dry them on paper towels on an old window screen on the veranda. Sometimes I write the name on the paper towel. I used to trust myself to remember what it is, but...well, not anymore, so I write it on the paper towel, if I remember to.

The screen sits over a container to catch small seeds that fall through and to allow air to circulate underneath. The seeds sit on the screen drying and maturing further for a few days, until I remember them and put them away. If the seed is too fine for the screen, I put a small, cut piece of sheer curtain underneath. (I keep a large stash of sheers for seed drying and covering plants.) 

It is important to wait until the seed pods are mature. For me, this is the hardest part. The seeds that I collect have dry, brown seed pods when they are ready. If the seed pod is still green and soft, it is not mature enough to pick the seeds. You will have to check them daily to catch the seeds before they are dispersed. Occasionally immature pods will ripen and the seeds will germinate, even if picked early and left to dry, but most seeds needs to ripen on the plant to get good germination rates. In order to have seed pods, you must leave the dead flowers on the plant. Clipping and cleaning up the garden will also clip off the future seeds.

I store seeds in regular letter envelopes, seal the long end and tape it securely with masking tape. Then I can cut open the small end and roll it closed and clip with a paperclip. This way I can continue to add more seeds to it as the autumn progresses. Here is a picture of my seed collection thus far this year. The envelopes are labelled with the name and any other information I might want to keep. In this box I can also keep plant labels for new plants, a box of paperclips, tape and a pen. The seeds need to be kept in paper envelopes to stay dry. A container that allows air to circulate will help, as well. Keep it in a cool, dry place. The top of the fridge is too warm and the bathroom and kitchen are too humid. A plain box serves well for this. A basket with a handle did this job previously and looks so "country cool". I don't know what happened to that basket...

Below are a few of my favourite perennials and annuals that I continue to grow and love. Most of these seeds will need winter stratification in order to germinate. That means that they will need a few weeks of damp winter cold before they will grow. I save these for 
winter sowing.

Winter seed sowing is a great hobby for those of us who hanker for the smell of the Earth and growing things in February, when the world is covered with a sheet of ice and snow. Here in Ontario, winter falls in Dec and we don't see the ground again until Spring, approximately mid March. I keep potting soil in the basement and seed equipment. Any plastic container with a clear lid makes a great winter sewing container. I save those clear, hard plastic cookie boxes from the grocery store and plant in those, after poking holes in the bottom. Then I put these planted, lidded containers out on the deck in the snow and leave them there. They sprout quickly in the very early spring, as soon as the days are long enough. You can obtain winter stratification in the freezer, but it is a lot dryer than the outdoors and doesn't work for everything. You get much better germination rates by winter sewing. You can also plant these seeds directly in the ground in the fall, but they sprout earlier in sheltered, covered containers. It's like being in a cold frame. gives me an excuse to dig in the dirt in the middle of winter. (More about winter sewing, when it happens.)

I do have several other perennials and flowing shrubs, but they don't often reseed. The annuals grow to their full potential in the first year and can be reproduced to cover large areas quickly. Below are some that I consider among the best and most beautiful re-seeders.

This is impatiens Grandulifera. The big, yellow, fuzzy bumblebees love it! It gets 6 ft tall and looks like this in flower. In the Fort Nelson, BC area the flowers are white and it grows wild.

The seedpods are sometimes called "touch-me-nots" because, when ripe, they explode if you touch them and scatter their seeds everywhere. You have to collect them carefully. I close my hand, gently, over the entire pod before applying any pressure and try to get all the seeds. Many escape when the bees set them off or the wind shakes it. You can also use a small paper bag closed over the end of the branch, but I have not tried this method. They re-seed themselves prolifically and I am always moving them to better places when they come up everywhere in the spring. Due to their height, I keep them at the back of the bed. They look spectacular in large, dense groupings.

This is impatiens Balsamina. It gets about a foot tall and reseeds itself generously. These have exploding seed pods, as well, so have to be gathered carefully.

This is pink nicotiana, also called "Nikkies" among gardeners who grow them. Their seeds don't develop until vary late in the season for me, then all at once. The seedpods have begun to mature now. They smell wonderful all through the garden!
Lupins are perennials that reseed themselves generously and come is a variety of colours. I have purple (picture at right) and red plants and I also have some pink and purple seeds to plant for next year. The picture on the bottom is not mine.

I love the look of nasturtiums. They are also good and healthy in a salad, but a bit "tangy". They come in yellow, orange and red and look great in planters or hanging over raised edges. They are annuals but grow quickly from seed. These are mine, as of a month ago.

My poppies are annual peony poppies and bloom all summer long. I don't have or care for the perennial poppies that bloom for just a few days and are gone and reseed. My annual peony poppies grow to 2.5 ft tall and come in single, double, and balled. They range from white to dark maroon in colour and every shade of pink in between. These bloom all summer long and reseed profusely. I have an envelope full of seeds from these. Planning where to put them is the hard part. I may scatter whatever seeds I don't use or trade into the field and see what happens. 

We occasionally keep the best of the vegetables for seeds, thereby improving our stock with each generation. Some seeds do cross pollinate or do not grow true, but that's the interesting part. We try not to plant vegetables too close together that will cross pollinate. Squash and pumpkins of the same family need to be separated by a large space.

Vegetable seed collecting is fairly straightforward, except for a few exceptions. Cucumbers and tomatoes have to be very ripe when picked and still need to age for a week or two on the counter top, until almost rotten. Then the seeds are collected, put into a container of warm water and left at room temperature to ferment a few days. Stir them occasionally and after about three or four days, strain them, rinse well and dry. All fruit and vegetable seeds need to be collected from fully ripe, if not over-ripe, vegetables and fruit.

Using All That Mint

Do you like mint? I love it! Its one of my favourite flavours! I like mint tea, mint coffee, mint cookies, mint candies, mint ice cream...I love mint! I think this is a good thing, since mint spreads so rapidly that it soon becomes invasive. We have it growing everywhere!

It grows wild in the fields here. It is too invasive for an herb bed. It also likes growing in the water and can take over a pond, but I don't consider it a weed. I like the smell that fills the air when I brush up against it. I would plant it if I didn't already have so much growing wild. There's a massive patch growing behind the chicken house in full sun. It does really well there with the chicken manure residue that finds it way through the soil. I have a patch 4 ft wide and 3 ft tall growing out in the field, too.

This is what I picked today behind the chicken house. I haven't gotten to the stuff growing in the field yet. I am putting it in the freezer for now, so can always add to it later if I need to.

A lot of these leaves are too old. I only use the fresh, juicy, fairly new leaves and buds for consumption. After I pick those off, the older branches will hang under the porch to dry. I will use these dried older leaves for a scented, herbal bath mix, a potpourri mix, or on a scented herb grapevine wreath for outdoors in the fall.

I set up a spot to work outdoors in the shade with a table so I can stand up straight and save my back. I want to fill a four litre ice cream bucket with leaves for making wine. The hose is on so that everything gets rinsed as its processed and I have a bottle of water for me. Its 34C outside today! 

You can also see Buck's nose in the bottom right corner. He's helping (sort of...). He's always nearby when I'm outside, if not right in my face! He's really quite good company most of the time, for a 6 month old HUGE puppy. It's hard to put anything out of his reach. When he stands up he's almost as tall as I am now. LOL! He likes to lay on the sofa but if he moves around much he falls off. He's taller than the seat on all fours and can just slide off onto his feet. He is such a sweet and gentle boy, thank goodness!

This is what I managed to salvage from that bunch of mint cut

earlier and a second bunch that size from the field. There's lots more out there but this is all I am collecting today. 

Next week, if I have time, I will collect more to make some mint tea. I did make a cup today. Mmmmmmm, delicious and so soothing!
I am also going to make some mint jelly this year. This is my recipe for mint jelly. Its very simple.


1 1/2 c. fresh mint leaves, packed
3 1/4 c. water
Green food coloring
1 box powdered pectin
4 c. sugar

Wash fresh mint leaves carefully and crush in water. Heat to a boil; cover and allow to steep for at least 10-15 mintues. Strain through double cheesecloth; measure 3 cups mint infusion (the boiled mint water). Add a few drops green food coloring to tint. Add pectin; bring to a boil. Add sugar; bring to a hard rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off foam with metal spoon. Pour at once into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space and seal.

Boil jars for 10 mins in water bath. Makes about six 1/2 pints.
I LOVE mint ice cream. This is a picture of the commercial mint choc chip ice cream that I have now but you can make your own.


For one pint, wash and dry one cup of leaves -- we prefer peppermint -- and discard stems. Using the back of a wooden spoon, crush leaves together with 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar resembles wet sand. Stir in one cup each of milk and heavy cream until sugar dissolves; refrigerate for 2 hours. Strain the mixture, discard solids, and freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

After I have cut back the current growing mint stalks, the mint will continue to grow and put out more new growth for me to harvest again in about a month. This will either be dried for cooking or go into the freezer.

Mint growing under a bee hive is suppose to help keep predator insects away.

Don't consider your wild mint a weed! Harvest and use it all. Its great stuff!

Blue Corn

This blue corn, also called Hopi maize! The corn pictured is called 'Six Nations Blue, Long Eared Variant', but there are many other varieties available. It's not really a new thing. Blue corn is a very old heirloom, grown by many of the first nations for hundreds of years. Isn't it amazing how the old things are coming back and they're better than the new generation foods!

Heirloom organic blue corn has 20% more protein, less sugar with a lower glycemic index. The blue colouring is due to the presence of anthocyanins in the corn. These are the same health promoting compounds found in purple berries and red wine. It is ground into flour and used as feed for animals. It doesn't have the sweet, tender taste that we are used to in the new corn hybrids. Is that a good thing? The new hybrids are all sugar.

20% more protein is amazing! So much better for egg production in chickens, meat building in pigs and cows, milk production in dairy! It's also better for us! With less sugar and more protein it can be part of the diet of someone with blood sugar problems.

Here are some more facts that I have discovered when researching blue corn:
Blue corn has 20% more protein and 8% less starch. It has more lysine, zinc and iron than today's yellow hybrids.

Cooking with blue corn:
Blue corn meal is milled dry blue corn. Blue corn masa harina has been roasted before milling.

Blue Corn Pancakes
Yield : Makes about 25 small pancakes
1½ cups blue cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
Unsalted butter, for the griddle
Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk, and butter and mix thoroughly. Cook the pancakes on a hot, buttered grill or skillet, using 2 tablespoons of batter for each pancake. Keep the pancakes warm in a low oven until ready to serve.


Blue Cornbread
Original Recipe Yield 1 - 9x9 inch pan of cornbread

1 cup blue cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x9 inch baking dish.
Mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Sift 3 times.
Stir the eggs and milk into the cornmeal mixture. Place the butter in the prepared baking dish, and melt in the preheated oven. Mix hot, melted butter into the cornmeal mixture. Transfer cornmeal mixture to the prepared baking dish.
Bake on center rack in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the edges of the cornbread pull away from the sides of the dish, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting.


I love primulas, also called primrose or polyanthus. They are one of my favourite flowers in the garden. One reason I like them so much is because they are so hardy! They stay green under the snow all winter. They bloom in the early spring and late autumn, even in the snow. They can be grown on a windowsill as a houseplant and do very well outside in the shade. They are an excellent shade garden plant that flowers.

Primulas like to be kept slightly moist and do not tolerate drying out completely. They do best in shade and like cool temperatures. A truly northern flower. They like slightly acid, humousy soil. (Is hymousy a word?) Sounds like a good peat bog plant.

I grew my first primulas from seed and had those plants for a decade. I continued to divide them as they grew and spread them around the edge of the flowerbed.

They are very low to the ground and make an excellet edging. You will want to keep them in the front of the bed as they don't get more than about 6-8" tall.

There are a lot of newer varieties of primulas. Some are taller with blooms on a stalk and they come in a rainbow of colours.

I bought these marked down to .25 each at the grocery store. They were almost dead when I brought them home. All they needed was a drink but they are in very light, poor soil so have to be constantly watered. I think I will replant them into potting soil until the ground thaws. Then they will go directly into the shade garden.