Why grandma saved flower seeds every year

Published 8:51 am Monday, September 20, 2021

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Old Ways of the Dark Corner 

A 52-year-old friend and reader called me last week to say, “You have written quite a bit about working with herbs and spices that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but you have not written anything about why my grandma made sure she saved flower seeds every year. Why did she?”

Simple answer: she loved her most beautiful ones and wanted to make sure they would be as pretty next year. Plus, she most probably wanted to share them with family members or neighbors.

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Whenever she had a flower that outdid itself in showing brilliant color, impressive size, vigorous growth, or breathtaking overall beauty, she wanted to grow that plant again. The best way to assure that was to save this year’s seeds and plant them next year.

Planting flowers from pricey purchased seeds (especially perennials) can be hit or miss in any year. Not every plant will produce a flower as pretty as the printed one on the package. Nor will the even more expensive starter plants from a local nursery or home improvement store!

Planting gathered seeds from outstanding plants in your own flower garden is the best guarantee to have the same qualities in new plantings, at no cost.

All old-fashioned annuals will grow very well from seeds that are collected and stored at home. Among the easiest seeds to save and replant in the spring are petunias, zinnias, marigolds, impatiens, snapdragons, calendula and cosmos.

Perennial seeds can be easily saved and replanted but some go from seed to maturity in one season, like sunflowers, while others may take a couple of years.

Grandma carefully chose the seed plants to collect from. On these, she left several fruits or seed heads to full maturity. They were usually ready to harvest about a month after the blossoms faded and the seeds turned brown.

She would gather the ripe seeds on a dry, sunny day.

She would clean them by removing any pods or husks that might have debris that contained insect eggs or fungi.

After collecting and cleaning them, she would spread them out on paper or an old cloth to dry for a week before storing.

She would then place the dried seeds in an envelope labeled with the plant name, height and color and the storage date.

The envelopes would be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark and dry location. If the location was not a completely dry area, she would put a little cornstarch or powdered milk in the bottom of the container to absorb any moisture.

Once the family was connected to electricity that allowed a refrigerator or freezer to be purchased, the seeds would be stored in them because the colder seeds are kept, the longer they will remain viable for future germination.