Thursday, August 15, 2013

Saving Seeds - Part 1 Dill, Cilantro, and Peas

As promised in my earlier Seed Packages post, here is the first in a short series of posts on saving seeds.  I will add to the series as seeds in my garden become available for saving.

The first of the plants to set seeds in my garden are the early spring leafy greens including various leaf lettuces and spinaches.  When the weather gets warm these leafy greens bolt, meaning they send up a flower stalk with the intent of reseeding themselves.  I do not have any pictures of my early greens but they follow the same lifecycle and their seeds can be saved in the same way as the dill and cilantro. Chives and onion seeds can also be saved as described in this post.

As you may have noticed, most plants produce a flower at some point in their lifecycle.  These flowers may, after pollination, produce a fruit in (or in the case of strawberries on) which the plant's seeds are found or instead the flowers may go straight to seed without producing a fruit.

As a side note, have you ever wondered about the real difference between a fruit and a vegetable? If the part of the plant you eat grew from the plant's flower, then it is a fruit.  If you eat the plant's leaf, root, stalk, flower, or other part that didn't grow from the plant's flower then it is a vegetable.  So that makes tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, avocados and many others fruit.  Somewhere I read that "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom is knowing NOT to put it in a fruit salad."

It makes sense that the first plants in the garden to have seeds that can be harvested and saved for future growing seasons are vegetables (and herbs) since fruits take much longer to develop.

In general for vegetable and herb seeds, you can simply collect the seeds from the plant when the seeds are full sized but before they have completely dried out or started to drop from the plant.  The harvested seeds of this type are best collected in paper bags (lunch sized works for most) then allowed to dry in the house in a cool dry location.

One day many years ago I planted one, just one dill plant.  I haven't planted one since.  But I get dozens of plants every year.  Why?  Because one dill plant can produce a bazillion seeds (ok maybe more like several hundred).  And those seeds can stay in the ground lurking for years until just the right environment exists to germinate.  And with each passing crop of dill, I am incapable of collecting all the dill seeds so the problem is perpetuated from season to season.

Well I guess I could yank out all the dill plants, but I like them so I let them grow.  I do collect and save dill seed each year.  For me, the dill seed is for pickling and cooking rather than starting new plants.  Once the seeds are ready for long term storage (meaning they have fully dried out) I keep my dill seeds in a jar in the spice cabinet.  My garden sufficiently produces enough new dill plants each year I never need to plant a dill seed on purpose.
Dill flowers
Dill plants start to flower after only a few weeks of germination.  The flowers are tiny and yellow growing in an umbel shape.  This is the same flower shape found with carrots and Queen Annes Lace which isn't all that surprising since all three plants are from the same family.
Dill seeds ripening, ready to be taken inside and dried
After a short time the flower dries out and seeds begin to form.  Pictured above you can see some dill flowers in the far right.  The majority of the picture are the swelling seeds that have grown from the flowers.  Once the dill seeds get to this size, you can clip off the whole head of seeds and store it in a paper bag for drying.  And no matter how familiar you are with your seeds, always label your paper bags.  Dill is pretty obvious because of its pungent fragrance but with many seeds, once dried, you will have no idea what those seeds are.
Dill seed a few days away from reseeding the garden
If you leave the seeds in the garden they will continue to dry out on their own like the ones shown in the picture above.  Dill seeds only take a short time to go from plump green seeds to the fully dried and ready to use seeds below.
Dill seed ready to cook with or plant
Cilantro has a similar life cycle to dill and is harvested the same way.  Below is a nice cilantro flower.  These flowers hang around for a few days then start to fade as seeds form.
Cilantro Flowers
In the picture below you can see cilantro seeds in various stages.  The bright green ones to the left are fully grown but have not yet started to dry out.  In the lower middle of the picture the seeds that look a bit pink have started to dry, seeds in this stage are the best to harvest.  The darker brown seeds are fully dry (see how much smaller they are than the other seeds that haven't dried yet).  These brown seeds are hours away from falling to the ground to produce new cilantro plants next season.
Cilantro seeds on the plant, some dried (the darker brown near the top right corner), and some in process, ready to be picked and dried inside (center)
You can harvest cilantro seeds at any point in their cycle once they have plumped to full size.  Again just pop the seeds in a paper bag to dry in your home in a cool dry place.  The dried seeds are the spice coriander (which is used in many curries and other yumminess) which taste nothing like cilantro.  So this is a double duty plant.
Coriander, also known as cilantro seeds 
If you don't harvest the seeds, next year your garden will look like the picture below.  I didn't plant any of these cilantro plants.  They were all grown from last year's seed that fell to the ground.  As you can see, not harvesting seeds can make a real mess.  There is also a volunteer cherry tomato plant in the picture.
Volunteer Cilantro
Peas take a little longer to produce seed.  Now to be clear, if you eat a pea it is food.  If you let the pea dry out on the vine it is a seed that will produce a new pea plant.  In fact, there are many peas that stay on the vine too long in my garden to be eaten so I just let them dry into seed.  The longer a pea stays on the vine the more of the natural sweet sugar in the pea turns to starch making the pea taste bland and, well, starchy rather then sweet.  Once the pods start to get a little leathery is usually when the peas have past their prime eating stage and are better left for seed.

In the picture above these pods are obviously dried out.  I just pluck them off the vine and pop the pod and all into a paper bag.  You can shell the dried seed peas out of their pods after they are fully dry.  I recommend shelling the peas after they have dried for a couple of weeks rather than leaving the peas in the pods until next year.
Sometimes I wait until the entire pea vine has died back to harvest the seed peas.  Peas on a vine that looks like this are almost completely dry and usually only need a few extra days of drying inside.
Again just label your bags then keep them in a cool dry place while the seeds finish drying.  Please note that this method is not the right method for dealing with wet seeds like those of tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers.  More on those later.

Once your seed are fully dry, you can move them into the Seed Packages you made earlier.

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  1. Great tips. I love how you have dried and stored them. Thanks tons for linking to Inspire Me. Hugs, Marty

  2. Thanks for sharing. I planted dill this Spring and wasn't sure how to harvest it :)

  3. Great post! Saving Seeds is very important. Thanks so much for sharing at Tuesdays with a Twist.
    Happy Tuesday! Come on over and share your latest posts.

  4. Terrific information on seeds - I'll have to share this with my daughter for her cilantro. I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

  5. Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic, thank you!

    Flower seeds


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