Monday, July 2, 2007

Hidden Harvest

Well, I am currently up to my crock in produce. I have started the apples. We are way past pie and into applesauce, apple butter, and dried apples. And there is the Apricot harvest that my mother-in-law surprised me with- jam, dehydrate, cobbler. And there are the berries- jam, freeze, dehydrate. And the Tomatoes- sauce, dehydrate, Bruschetta. And herbs, and onions, and garlic, and.... Well, all I can say is lids. I had to buy a bunch of lids for my jars. And the month of July also brings Peaches. My kitchen is becoming a commercial produce processing plant. Every surface is covered with produce, equipment, and production in stages of completion.
So that brings us to the Hidden Harvest- seeds.
Hmmm. I heard you say it. Seeds are things you buy every year to get the garden up and going. Like pumpkins and cucumbers and lettuce. But I can tell you that there is a great big harvest waiting for you in your garden that is almost too small to see.
Every year I let a few lettuce plants go to seed. They produce enough seed for years of lettuce, but I try to use it up each year. Not every seed is viable and it doesn't stay useful for a long time. And I try to save a few beans, peas, and definitely squash seeds. This year I also got some coriander and spinach. There is always dill and anise and chard. Onion, yes there is some onion, too. And Tomato. Peppers, I forgot peppers. And flowers of course- like tagetes and calendula, Peruvian lily, fragrant narcissus, Watsonia and wild Gladiolus. I have a collection of small jars full of seed for next year.
So how do you go about collecting this Hidden Harvest? There are many opinions about this. One is that the plant must be completely dry before you collect the seed. Some say when the plant is yellowing. Others say don't do it at all because the outcome is "iffy". Me, well, I harvest beans and peas when the pod gets leathery before it dries and splits. I smear tomato seeds on Paper towels when they are ripe enough to eat raw and let them dry. I collect pepper seed from green or red peppers depending on when I think about it. I grab the onion flower when I see the black seeds start to show and put it in a bowl to finish drying. I break off the downy, yellow stalk of lettuce and whack it against a white sheet- mature seed falls into the sheet. I pick off the ripe seeds of Fennel, anise, dill, celery, parsley, coriander while they are still a bit green/yellow (if I wait the birds will get them all). Snails also like seeds, so you have to get there before the snails. But sometimes you can just toss the seedy stalks onto the garden soil and let them seed themselves under the mulch of the parent plant. This has worked for many thousands of years.
I take a personal pleasure in collecting seeds. It is a time consuming activity and a package of seeds from the store can cost as little as 10 cents when it is on sale. But when I collect seeds, I feel like I have gotten a little something special from the garden. And sometimes I get something I can't get anywhere else.
I have a piece of my friend's garden in my garden because I took some of her beet seeds before she moved away. I think of her there. I have Fava beans from my sister-in-law. She let me have two and they parented all of my seeds. I have chard that has been successful for 5 years. I only save the red ones and now they all are red. I have unusual seeds for unusual plants and usual seeds for usual plants. And some seeds I wish I didn't have at all.
But not all seeds are good to gather. Hybrids- like tomatoes, corn and cantaloupe- don't breed true when they cross pollinate. The next crop may be something awful. Pumpkins are like that a bit, too. They start out huge but breed down to small naturally, and they lose some color and flavor.
You have to know what you really want before you save the seeds. Sweet corn seed is probably best purchased each year, but popcorn can be saved easily. "Developed" tomatoes are usually hybrids and should be bought each year, but cherry tomatoes and yellow tomatoes breed true. And Saving seed takes up space. You have to thoroughly dry the seed in the air. A dehydrator will kill the germ. You have to check for bugs and larva. You have to store it in a jar or bag and remember where you put it. AND you have to want that vegetable or plant next year in your garden.
So that is it for seeds. Not real hard to do, but strangely satisfying. Someday I may actually try breeding something special, but for now I just want a little extra from my garden experience.

1 comment:

Rebsie Fairholm said...

I have one of your lemons! I'm so excited.

I've never held a home-grown lemon in my hands before. They don't grow in this country, except indoors with artificial heat, so everything we buy is imported. I expect I shall keep the seeds, even if I can't plant them. Just in case.

Thank you also for the marigold seeds. I will probably have to wait until next year to sow them, but they'll be very welcome ... I hope they're not too shocked to find themselves in a cold wet climate.