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Saving Seeds

If it's not a hybrid, it's producing seeds. Before we get into saving seeds, I have a disclaimer... we are pretty new to seed saving. Up until a few years ago we may have saved a few seeds here or there from one or two flowers, but never with much thought and honestly most years we forgot about what we collected, which meant we purchased new seeds and ended up doing nothing with the ones we saved. In the last few years, we've started picking out flowers that were special (a great colour, or with a unique characteristic) or particularly easy to save and we've had some success.

(A few of the varieties of zinnia's we saved seed from later in the season)

We have been asked about seed saving for almost as long as we've been flower farming, and we never got into it until recently for a few reasons. First, it can be time consuming. We have our days full from sun-up to past sunset nearly every day all season long, so to take time out of what we were doing for a few seeds that may cost us a few dollars just never felt worth it. Not only do you have to collect the seed but also process it, and store it... it all takes time. Second, you have to know what you're looking for so that you save the right part of the plant. This isn't tough but just takes a little knowledge or research. Third, expect cross pollination in some varieties. This can be great, and fun, but not ideal if you're like us and are very particular when it comes to the colours and varieties we grow. Fourth, you need to make sure the seed is viable. These last two reasons are the main reasons we never did much seed saving until now. As a flower farmer having good seed (and predictable seed) is crucial to a good crop. If you don't know your germination rate or the percentage of what number of seed is good, when you use your saved seeds the next season, you may have poor germination and end up with far fewer plants than needed or expected. That's why we recommend testing your seed prior to ordering seeds to ensure you have what you need.

Testing seed does not have to be complicated. Simply start a few of them in a window or under a grow light during the winter months, and see what percentage of seeds grows out of what you plant. Once you know what percentage of seed germinates, label your package and you can throw away the plants (it's likely way too early to grow them until spring so you don't need to keep the going all winter).

A good rule of thumb when starting to seed save is that anything that has self-seeded in your garden can have viable seed to save. What is great about seed saving is that you have the opportunity to grow them in the spots or rows that you want rather than where the wind blows them. Another benefit especially for flower farmers is that because you can pick which seeds to save, you have the opportunity to colour block when you grow certain flowers that would otherwise only be available in mixes. This makes knowing what colours of a variety are about to bloom much easier as well as the picking process. It also allows you to control the number of colours that would otherwise be subject to the luck of the pack.

It's important to note that you'll likely have to do some research and trial and error on how and which plants cross pollinate. If you save seeds without any research here, you may get flowers that were different from their parent plant due to cross pollination. For example, zinnias have certain seeds on the flower head that cross pollinate, but others that don't. If you chose the seed head based on the parent plant, you'll want to separate the seeds so you know which will be the same and which have the potential to be different. If you don't really mind what colour they are, then just save the seeds and see what comes up. It will be a fun surprise!

(Celosia seeds being sorted out in our kitchen)

Seeds need to be collected once the plant has fully matured and is producing viable seed. If you pick too early, your seeds will likely never get the opportunity to produce seed. If you pick too late you risk shedding of seeds as well as frost (or in our area snow or heavy rain which can destroy seed crops). Be sure to only pick seeds from healthy plants. Picking seeds from plants that are damaged or diseased only increases the likelihood of your next crop to have the same issue.

Store your seeds in a cool dry environment, out of direct sunlight, and ideally in airtight containers. Pick a cool closet or room in the basement if you can. You can also freeze or refrigerate your seeds. Make sure before you store anything they are sufficiently dry. If they aren't, you risk mould which will destroy your seed harvest.

It's best to use the majority of your saved seeds for your next season. Many seeds loose viability each year they are stored. This goes for the ones you purchase as well. You may have great germination the first year, but none the second. This is because some seeds just do not have long term viability. You can also do some research on this (some seeds last a long time), but your best option is to not over save or over purchase when it comes to seeds.

We are still in the process of sorting out some of our saved seeds, but we'll have some fun products coming out soon from the seeds we have saved. Keep an eye out for those!


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