If you haven’t already taken advantage of nature’s bounty, the beginning of Autumn is still a great time of the year for seed harvesting. Many of the flowers in our gardens and vegetables that we eat can easily be grown from seed and collecting these seeds from the spent flower heads and the fruit and vegetables we eat is a fun and educational activity for children.
Explore your garden for seeds
Seed harvesting is best done after a few days of dry weather so the seed heads are not wet. Then it is worth spending some time with your child in the garden identifying what the various flower heads are. It is best to start with the ones that are easy to recognise like poppies, sunflowers, sweet peas, hollyhock and cosmos. Herbs like dill, fennel and coriander are also really easy to harvest for seeds. The latter can be used both as spices or to sow next spring and summer.
This is also the perfect opportunity to observe how amazing various seeds look close up, from the beautiful sunflower seed pattern to the curious little disks that are tightly packed together in hollyhock seed pods. If you have a book on how plants disperse their seeds, this is a great time to look at it and identify the various ways in which nature makes sure that plant seeds are spread, often as far as possible from the original plant.
Pick what you’d like to grow next year
Once you have explored your garden with your mini gardener, it is time to decide what you’d like to grow next year. Seeds are an important source of food for birds and wildlife so it is important that we only take what we require for next years garden.
If they are old enough, let you child use child-friendly scissors to cut the flower heads or seed pods. If the cuttings are a little damp, you can leave them to dry for a few days indoors before storing them. If they are not completely dry they might rot or grow mould making them unsuitable for sowing next year. Also, make sure that the seeds are actually dry and mature for sowing.
Removing the seeds from their ‘vessels’ can be lots of fun, poppies in particular are pretty amazing because as the flower dies, the ovary turns into a rounded capsule topped by a disk that has small holes. When the capsule is dry, the small black poppy seeds can escape from the holes in the disk when it is shaken.
Seeds from food
At this time of the year it is also easy to get seeds from the vegetables, fruits and legumes that we have enjoyed over the summer months. Tomatoes, peppers, squashes, peas, beans and many others have easy to access seeds that when dried can be used for next year’s sowing. For tomatoes, it is easy to simply scoop out the seeds, rinse them and leave them to dry on some kitchen roll before storing. Leave a few peas and beans on the plant until the pods are dry, their content is then ready to be kept for sowing.
As with the flower seeds, make sure these seeds are dry before storing. Also, please note that if the plants you are harvesting come from hybrid seeds, the seeds they produce will not be viable for sowing next year.
Creating pretty storage
There are many ways to store your seeds. With the girls I have decorated small paper envelopes that can easily be sealed and stored in an old biscuit tin or food storage container. Through memory and with a bit of help from photos and Google, the girls drew an image of the flower for each of the seed type we had collected, they wrote the name of the plant below their drawing and stuck the image on the front of the envelope. Flowers can be a great source of inspiration for artwork and observation so letting them being creative is a fantastic way to feel close to nature.
I haven’t tried this yet, but if you have been super organised during the summer months and collected some of the flowers to press them, then they would make the perfect decoration for these paper envelopes.
Ready to sow for next year
When the seeds are dry they can be placed in the correct envelopes and stored in a dry and cool place. Make a note of when they will need seeding and what their preferred conditions are in terms of sun/shade and soil type. Also, don’t forget that some of the wildflowers growing in your garden can already be sown now and will start growing in spring when the temperature rises.This is also a great time to start a journal with all the information about the seeds you have collected and you could even include some nice drawings or pictures of the seed pods, flowers, vegetables, leaves or of the seed themselves. You can even start planning for next year’s planting and identify any additional seeds that you might need ahead of time.