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Re: Seed Prep FAQ's


Hello again:

Have you noted that Spike has added several new FAQs to various forums? 
I can't figure out whether they're truly culled from postings or put 
together some other way -- I don't recognize names (people) of those 
quoted in either the Q's or A's. Check it out & tell me where these came 
from, if you can -- I believe there's one on the Bulbs forum & another 
on Perennials, can't remember if I saw others. Is Spike stealing your 
thunder?!!!!

Well, if neither the above nor the passage of time (sorry) hasn't used 
up your impetous for completing the Seed Prep FAQs, I herewith attach my 
comments/rewrites/additions to what you most recently sent me for same. 
[My reactions are contained within brackets like these.] They are still 
a very, very useful idea Laurie -- many people would benefit from having 
an easy place to check out for info, especially eager newbies.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SEED PREPARATION

Q.  Can you give me a general idea of how and when to collect seed from
my garden plants?

First some basics.  This may seem obvious, but you must leave flower
heads on plants that you want to set seed 

[break into 2 sentences here -- less run-on]

so deadheading to prolong bloom is not possible unless the plant 
produces enough flower stalks that you can deadhead some and leave 
others to fall off naturally while seeds form.  If you grow vegetables 
and fruits to eat, allowing plants to go to seed may spoil the intended 
product (for example, lettuce leaves taste bitter once plants flower) or 
reduce the quantity of edibles, or the seeds themselves may be what you 
plan on eating (peas, for instance).  A further consideration is that 
many popular garden plants, grown for flowers or for food, are hybrids 
and either do not produce seed or their seeds are not viable (viable 
means able to germinate and grow).  In any case, before you can collect 
seed from any plant,

[dump comma -- unnecessary]

it must go through the whole cycle of flowering, being pollinated, 
developing seed, and ripening.

Some plants develop seeds within seed pods 

["within pods" -- 2nd use of seeds is redundant]

of varying descriptions, others hide their seeds inside fruits or 
berries, and still others harbor their seeds directly inside the dying 
flower heads.  In all cases, any seeds produced will be present in the 
same spot as the flowers originally appeared. 

["...any seeds produced will develop in close proximity to the flowers." 
This is slightly more accurate -- a "perfect" flower has the ovary 
located within it; in "imperfect" flowers the ovary is elsewhere, 
typically just *below* the petals, where they attach to the stem or 
stalk.]

  If you can not locate seeds on a particular plant, try posting a 
question to the 'Growing From Seed' forum here at GardenWeb for 
assistance.

It's best to let the seeds ripen on the plants until they are *almost*
ready to disperse on their own.  A common mistake is to separate seeds
from the plant before they've finished developing. Once the seeds have
finished enlarging, they will generally change color (from whitish or
green to tan or brown), dry out, and begin to split open (if contained
in a pod) or loosen their attachment to the plant in some manner.  On
many plants the seeds don't ripen all at one time (check daily), and it
can be useful to tie a small paper bag or the toe cut from panty hose
over the seed heads to prevent dispersal before you can harvest.  If
this method isn't practical, try not to wait to collect them until they
are completely dried out (i.e. papery dry), or the seed will either have
dispersed or it may spill out when you shake the plant stems trying to
break off the seed pods or heads.  As long as you wait until the flower
seed heads have turned dark and fairly dry, or until the bracts ("leafy"
shape that surrounds the petals of a flower where it attaches to its
stem) or the pods themselves have quit enlarging and have begun to dry
out, you can cut and take these indoors to finish ripening in a cool,
shaded place inside a closed paper bag (this will prevent you from
losing those seeds that disperse *explosively*).

[MH rewrite: It's best to let seeds ripen on plants until they are 
*almost* ready to disperse on their own.  It's a common mistake to 
separate seeds from the plant before they've finished developing but any 
collected too early will not be viable.  Once seeds have finished 
enlarging, they will generally change color (from whitish or green to 
tan, brown or black) & begin to dry out. Pods will start splitting open, 
berries or fruits will shrink & wrinkle or flower heads will begin to 
fall apart, dropping the seeds within.  On many plants the seeds don't 
ripen all at once (check daily) and it can be useful to tie a small 
paper bag or the toe cut from panty hose over the seed heads to prevent 
dispersal before you can harvest.  If this method isn't practical, try 
not to wait to collect until plants are completely dried out (i.e. 
papery dry), or the seed will either have dispersed or it will fall out 
when you shake the plant stems to break off the seed pods or heads.  
It's usually best to *cut* stems, turn them upside down inside a paper 
sack & take these indoors to finish ripening in a cool, shaded place.  
The sack will also prevent your losing those seeds that disperse 
*explosively*, such as Impatiens.

Q.  How do I prepare seeds inside berries for storage/trading?

You have two options:  clean the berries, or let the berries dry intact
with pulp.  Many berries contain chemicals that inhibit germination;
their seeds will germinate much more readily if the flesh is cleaned
away.  

["As many berries contain chemicals that inhibit germination, their 
seeds will germinate more readily if the flesh is cleaned away."]

This is especially true for berries with hard-shelled seeds.  Some 
berries contain soft-shelled seeds which store longer if they are
not cleaned.  They lose viability quickly and need to be planted soon
after harvesting and cleaning.  Again, you can post questions to the
'Growing From Seed' forum for plant-specific information.

All berries, even those that have been dried with pulp for storage, are
generally best cleaned before planting.  If the berries are already
dried, soak them overnight to soften the pulp.  Before cleaning *fresh*
berries, allow them to overripen.  Once the skin begins to wrinkle and
the berry becomes mushy, it is ready to clean.   Some berries are
poisonous or contain chemicals that can irritate the skin, so it is a
wise precaution to wear rubber gloves when cleaning them.  Put the
berries in a mesh strainer and mash them gently against the mesh while
holding under running water.  As the seeds are separated from the pulp,
pick them out and put them on a paper towel to dry thoroughly before
packaging and storing.

[Note: I would put Berry-prep info at the last in the FAQs -- I believe 
it's of more specialized interest than the other info covered here, tho 
it is very helpful to those to whom it applies.]

Q.  Is it really necessary to dry seeds before storing them, and if so,
how do I dry them?

["...to dry ALL seeds..."]

This depends on the species.  Some seeds 

[, especially from Alpine plants, ]

do not survive dry storage and need to be stored moist in a plastic bag 
of damp sand or vermiculite, or sown immediately.  Some seeds can be 
dry-stored but lose viability quickly.  These seeds will last longer if 
refrigerated and are best if sown within six months of harvest.  

[..."quickly: such seeds will last longer if refrigerated and are best 
sown within six months of harvet."]

Some seeds have been known to survive dry storage for thousands of 
years.  Once again, you can post questions about specific seeds to the 
'Growing From Seed' forum.

The best way to dry seeds is on the parent plant.  Harvest them ripe and
dry, if possible.  If you harvest them a little early, or wet from a
rain, or wet from cleaning (like berry seeds), it is good to keep the
seeds in a paper envelope or bag for at least a week.  Keep them in a
cool, dry, shaded place so they dry slowly.  Seeds that dry too quickly
may dessicate and die.  Seeds will tend to darken in color and some may
shrivel when exposed to the air and dried.  Once the seeds have ceased
any changes in appearance, they should be dry enough to store.  Some
seeds may need up to six weeks to dry thoroughly.

[This para seems to contradict or complicate what went before. I would 
rewrite it: "The seeds of *most* flowering plants stay viable longest if 
dried before being stored. Once it has ripened and at least begun to dry 
on the parent plant, it should be placed in a cool, shaded place with 
good air ciculation to complete the process. Too much heat can cause 
seeds to dessicate and die so be patient: some seeds may need up to six 
weeks to dry thoroughly. Once they have ceased any changes in appearance 
{color, size, etc.), they can be safely stored for later use."] 

Q.  Is it really necessary to clean seed before storing or trading it,
and if so, how?

The necessity of cleaning the duff 

["...of cleaning away the chaff or duff..."]

(any part of the plant that is *not* the seed) from seed 

[dump "from seed" -- unnecessary]

is that (1) it will rot in the dampness of seed-sowing soil and may 
promote "damp-off", a fungus that kills seedlings; (2) the duff may hold 
moisture in whatever container you store the seed and cause mildew or 
mold which will kill the seed; and (3) cleaning is a courtesy and will 
help you know if you really have ripe seed.  Some flower heads will look 
like they are full of seeds, but after cleaning there will only be two 
or three ripe seeds.  You need to know how many seeds you have to be a 
fair trader. 

It's a good idea to limit the amount of plant duff as you collect seed
heads and pods.  Use scissors to cut away leaves and stems before
putting seed heads and pods aside to dry.  Once dry (typically quite
dry, although there are exceptions:  seed pods that are easier to open
and empty when still leathery), use fingers or scissors to release any
seeds and spill them into a clean bowl with a slippery surface (makes
moving the seeds around to clean them easier).  It may be necessary to
rub or crush stubborn seed pods between your fingers in order to release
the seeds.  Have a place to put the duff and a container for the cleaned
seeds handy.  Then use tweezers, a knife or stiff straight edge, breath,
and/or sometimes a wire sifter to separate the seeds from the duff.
Commercially-made sifters of increasingly small sizes of mesh are
available for this purpose, but probably unnecessary for cleaning small
amounts of seed.  With larger seeds, you can simply try tossing the
seeds and duff up from the bowl, and allow the seeds to drop back while
gently blowing the duff away with your breath.

[I know I wrote this but it still needs work: "It's a good idea to limit 
the amounth of duff as you collect seed heads and pods: stip away 
leaves, cut off excess branches, etc., before you put flower stalks or 
pods into a paper bag. In many instances, you can simply shake the seeds 
loose inside the bag when they've dried sufficiently, then remove the 
stalks or emptied pods and spill the seeds into a clean bowl (one with a 
light-colored, slippery inside surface makes moving the seeds around 
easier.)  To complete the cleaning, use your fingers, tweezers, a 
straight edge or your breath, perhaps tossing larger seeds in the air as 
you blow away the chaff.  Wire mesh sifters are also useful and 
commercial ones meant for this purpose are available.  It may be 
necessary to rub or crush stubborn seed pods between your fingers in 
order to release the seeds.  Doing this over a piece of white paper or a 
light-colored, glazed plate will help you see the seeds better and be 
more successful."]

After the seeds are cleaned

[of all debris, ]

you may notice that some of them are still a little green.  If so, it is 
a good idea to let them ripen and dry for a few more days before 
packaging them.

Q.  How should I store seed after harvesting, drying, and cleaning it?

Moisture and heat are the main enemies of viable seed -- strong sunlight
is unadvisable, too.  

[make that "inadvisable"]

Seed can be safely stored in airtight, well-sealed containers, either 
glass or plastic, with silica gel packets (available at many craft 
stores) to absorb excess moisture that may cause seeds to either mold or 
germinate prematurely.  A  few grains of dry rice or some powdered milk 
wrapped in a tissue can also help to absorb moisture.  As a general 
rule, temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit work well for 
maintaining long term seed viability, making a refrigerator the ideal
storage facility.  However, if you do store seeds in a refrigerator, do
not keep them in the same compartment with fruits and vegetables.  Some
fruits (apples, for example) give off a chemical as they ripen that will
inhibit the germination of many species of seed.  Alternately, many
seeds store quite well in any cool, dry, and dark location.  Although
some seeds need to be exposed to freezing temperatures for a period of
time in order to break dormancy, many others will not survive prolonged
freezing, therefore a freezer is not the best possible storage area.

[This seems a mite wordy but is basically okay with me.]

Be certain to mark any containers with basic information about the
seeds:  species, and when and where it was collected.

Q: How do I know if my seed is viable?

A:  There are various simple tests for viability.  One is to dampen a
plain white paper towel and fold it in half, place a few seeds one one
half of the towel and fold it in half again over the seeds, enclose it
in a ziplock sandwich bag and place in a warm, dimly-lit spot or pin it
to the curtain of a sunny window if the seeds require light to
germinate.  After a week or so, check to see if any sprouts have
appeared.

Some seeds, such as peas, can be tested for viability by placing them in
a bowl of water.  Those that float are sterile; those that sink are
viable.

["Those that float are sterile (contain no embryo & hence are lighter in 
weight); those that sink are likely to be viable." 

Q: How do I know if my plants are hybrids that may not produce seed true
to the parent plant?

A:  Always save any tags or labels on plants you buy and ask questions
about plants you obtain from other gardeners.  Unfortunately, many
commercial growers don't tag their plants very informatively (even the
conscientious ones make mistakes), and many gardeners only know their
plants by common (and often incorrect) names.  Your best bet is to learn
all you can about the plants you have or want and post questions about
specific ones on the 'Growing from Seed' forum to get additional advice.

[...only know their plants by common names, which vary widely in 
different parts of the country and world.  You..."]
	--------------------------------------------------------

Whew! I'm think I'm done -- how 'bout you? Hope you can follow & make 
sense out of my editorializing & that's it's useful to you. Good luck on 
finishing these FAQs & getting them onto the website. You're a noble 
sort, Ms. Frazer.

Marte, pooped out now, in the mtns





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