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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Saving seeds for next year's garden

parsley plant, gone to seed
Last week, I spent a fair amount of time cleaning up the vegetable garden. In ding so, I found ti was time to collect the seeds from my parsley plant. In spring, when planting seeds, I discovered I was out of parsley seeds. So, I chose to let one of 2014-seeded parsley plants go to seed. (Parsley is a biennial, the first year it has a full season, the second year it comes back early, then goes to seed mid to late season.)

Letting a plant go to seed does look less than tidy, for a couple of months. But it is the way to obtain free seeds for the next year.

I think I collected enough parsley seeds to seed a football field! And in the process of collecting them, I probably free-seeded my herb garden with next year's parsley. Later this week, I'll do a germination test on a few of those seeds, so I can determine their viability, and whether or not I'll need to buy parsley seeds next year.

You know how to check for viability/germination in seeds? Place 10 seeds in a folded paper towel, napkin or tissue. Wet the napkin/towel with water till damp. Place into a plastic ziploc bag and seal closed. Leave this in a warm spot (on the fridge top, on the tumble dryer, on an old big-back television, any spot that stays around 70-80 degrees). Check every 2 to 3 days, sprinkling the towel with water, as needed, to keep damp. Note the days till germination for your own planting purposes next spring. Most seeds will germinate within 2 to 3 weeks, some in as few as 4 or 5 days (cabbage family seeds germinate quickly). If after 2-3 weeks, only 3 of the 10 seeds have sprouted, then you have roughly a 30% germination rate for the remainder of your seeds. 70 to 80% germination is considered good. But a lesser percentage of germination is still usable. You simply need to seed more thickly to account for the less than ideal germination rate. So, my own germination rate will 1) tell me if I collected the seeds in time, and whether or not the seeds had time to mature, and 2) what my germination rate is likely to be in spring, for determining how thickly to plant my parsley.

I'm still waiting for the beet seeds, from the 2 beets that I allowed to set seeds, to fully mature. I may have to cover those plants with a row cover, to give them as much time to mature without rotting, as possible.

collected parsley seeds, in a junk mail envelope

I store my saved seeds, in junk mail envelopes, in a glass jar, in the fridge. I add those little silica gel packets, that come in vitamin bottles, to the seed jar, as a precaution, to reduce moisture in the jar.

And in case you don't already know this, you don't want to collect seeds from hybrid plants. Many tomato plants that you buy at the nursery are hybrids, for example. Collected seeds from a hybrid won't remain true to that hybrid. (However, when one of my hybrid tomatoes has self-seeded in the mulch, and a random tomato plant has erupted in my garden, I still leave it there and collect any tomatoes from it that it wants to give me.)

I like to go through all of my seeds, now, at the end of the gardening, season. It gives me a chance to pick up any packets of seeds on clearance, barter/exchange seeds with friends, and plan for the next planting season, so I am free to start my seeds, next spring (or winter), whenever I am ready. If the winter is indeed a mild one, as has been forecasted for my area, then I could be able to start seeds indoors (to plant out later), as early as late January.


  1. Hello! Missed your blog while we were away on a family camping trip for Fall Break, but the break from electronics was good for us all.

    I have not yet ever successfully grown parsley, sadly. But I did let some radishes go to seed this spring and collected seed from them for next year. Tried to let some carrots naturally reseed themselves this fall, but my 5 YO mistakenly pulled THAT carrot when looking for a snack, so I'm not sure any seeding happened. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Cat,
      How fun! I hope you and your family had a great camping trip! And I do think it's a good idea to shut off the electronics from time to time.

      Hmmm, it may be too hot/dry for parsley in your area, at least in your main garden. You could try seeding in a different spot, one with more shade, like the east side of your house, where it would fall into shade in the afternoon. Strangely, parsley will grow in partial shade in my garden. I have a shadier spot of our main garden where parsley does especially well. Also, parsley does well in cooler climates, so it could be something you could grow in the shoulder seasons of late winter/early spring, and then again in fall.

      Good work on saving radish seeds! That's a type of seed that I do go through quickly. I have radish greens planted right now. They'll overwinter and come back and go to seed in the spring. I think I'll let one form seeds to collect. Thank you for that idea!

      Oh, too bad about that carrot! Oh well! But on the positive side, you have trained your kids to enjoy snacking on healthy things like carrots from the garden. So that in itself is rewarding!

  2. Thanks for your tip on testing the germination rate of seeds...we've not tested any of our seeds. We want to grow Chinese parsley, but after buying it twice from the stores and nothing grew in our pot, we gave up thinking it was our soil. Funny when we grew it in the ground long ago, no problem. If I did the Ziploc paper towel test on the parsley seeds I would have been able to zero in on the problem.


    1. Hi YHF,
      I don't know about Chinese parsley, but with Italian and curly parsley, there's a bit of a trick to getting it to germinate. If you soak the seeds overnight, in water, before planting in the soil, your germination rate s much higher. Planting your seeds in the ground may have had that "soaking" effect (wet soil) that helped it germinate, whereas a pot may have dried out too quickly.

      Maybe you could convince your father to grow a bit of Chinese parsley for you, in the ground, in your yard?

    2. On our second attempt to grow the parsley (Cilantro by another name), I used a starter seeding tray and made sure to keep it fairly damp for a few weeks. I haven't tried soaking the seeds overnight though. I can't tell my father what to do sadly. He hasn't watered any of his plants but is digging in the yard again. That is what gave him his pinched nerve!!


    3. Okay, so cilantro is different. I have trouble with cilantro, sometimes, too. It's funny, it free-seeds in my pots, but sometimes I can't get the seeds to sprout when I actually plant them. It's also very quick to bolt, which means I have to be on top of it, and cut and freeze if I can't use it right away. But I do keep trying, because I'm just a persistent kind of gal! Or, possibly, I don't know when to give up!

      Cilantro seeds are big enough, compared to something like lettuce seeds, that you could also try roughing them up a bit on a piece of sand paper before planting. Sometimes, the tough outer shell keeps a seed from germinating easily. And when you do plant the seeds, alternate the planting depth, from 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch with the seeds. Some sites say to plant them 1/2-inch deep, others say 1/4-inch deep in the soil. Extra depth may help them germinate due to better moisture at that level of the soil. But then, if a tiny seedling has too much soil to work through, it may give up.

      Good luck!

    4. Thanks, so much good information, I didn't know. I just told my husband about roughing up the cilantro seeds, and soaking it in water prior to planting. We're having a difficult time capturing all of our basil seeds, although we may have too many just from the first plant. What is the best way of capturing the seeds? If we wait too long, the seeds fall and are lost. .


    5. I recall cilantro free seeding in our garden too. We're thinking the seeds from the store may have been too old. Next year, we're thinking about buying cilantro from the grocery store and replanting that for seeds (maybe let it sit in water for a few days to perk the root system, works for green onion), or buying from the garden shop already potted.


    6. YHF,
      I take an old legal-size (the long ones) junk mail envelope, and break the seed head (spent flower) over and into the opening of the envelope. Then in the house, I separate the seeds from the rest of what I picked, on a sheet of white paper (again, the back of a piece of junk mail). The white paper helps me see what is seed and what is excess plant material. I lose some of the seeds to the soil, but that's okay, as long as I get enough seeds for a few years. Most plants will produce a lot of seeds, so you shouldn't have trouble getting what you need.

      And as far as timing the seeds, most flower heads will hang on to the seeds for several days to weeks. Just keep checking on the plant. Shake a flower head over your hand every day, when you begin to suspect they may be ready. When the flower head looks dried up, your seeds will be dry, too, and ready to gather. Since you're not doing this for a business, you don't need to get every last seed, just what you need. If I were to go about this to sell seeds, then I'd come up with mats to place under the plants, that would catch the seeds for me.

      If you buy a plant, you could just give it its own pot (a large one, with lots of surface), and let it go to seed on its own year after year. Since you live in such a mild climate, that would probably work for many years.

  3. Lili,
    I think you're probably the smartest woman out there. I think you know just about everything! Even my dad (the greatest gardener in the world) doesn't save seeds but he does order seeds as needed from the best seed companies and not little seed packets. He also checks germination each year.

    Seed catalogs are his friends as spring time approaches. I see about a dozen of them sitting around as he plans and decides and orders. I'm forced to read them when I come visit and I'm always sent home with one to "decide what you want me to plant for you this year". Love it.


    1. Hi Alice,
      You get the very best of armchair gardening -- you get to plan and dream about what will be in the garden, without the back-breaking work of actual gardening!!

      Does your dad ever grow flowers for cutting, in the garden, or is he a strictly veggie garden gardener? I would like to plant flowers, just for cutting, in one section of my garden, so that we could always have bouquets on the table in summer (without raiding the main landscape).

      Wishing you happy planning/choosing, this winter!

    2. Yes, yes to the flowers. He plants those for my mom. They have friends who had a middle aged woman friend who was getting married ealy Oct. and they asked my dad if they could cut some of his flowers for the wedding! He said YES of course!

      But I have to correct you that I DO have to do some work in the garden. Not a lot but I do some. He's quite territorial about his equipment and garden.


    3. That's so nice, Alice! I'm going to try to set aside space for flowers for cutting.

      (oops! Sorry. I didn't mean to infer that you weren't doing anything in the garden!)

  4. Hi Lili,
    Wow thank you for that information! I had saved some seeds in the past but I never knew to test them & they did not do well so I stopped doing it. Now next year I can try again & hopefully save some money.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      did you know that some seeds even have higher germination the second year? Some seeds need a dormant period before they will sprout. So, I think it's worthwhile to save your seeds, then do a germination test on them.

      It's amazing how many different ways we can save money on ordinary, everyday things, like seeds!

  5. *breaking into song*--"parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ..... ". Sorry, my inner musician is bursting out!

    If it hadn't been for tomatoes that self-seeded this past summer, we wouldn't have had tomatoes--I think my husband bought a batch of diseased ones from the nursery. We had no idea what variety they were, but at least we got enough to eat. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      "Someone" was looking out for you!
      I had two volunteer tomato plants this year. one came up too late to give us anything, but the other was a cherry tomato, which I didn't plant this year, so it was nice to have those, although just a few handfuls.


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