Saving dry seeds with Annette McFarlane - video transcript

This page is a video transcript of the Saving dry seeds with Annette McFarlane video hosted on Brisbane City Council's YouTube channel. This video is 13 minutes and 6 seconds long.

Find more Council videos at our Brisbane: Better together video hub.


>> ANNETTE:  Hello I'm Annette McFarlane.  

Welcome to my first session on seed saving. Today I'm talking dry seed saving, so in other words seed that has dried naturally on the plant. They are the easiest to save and there's a whole variety of them that you can choose from.

One of the things you may be familiar with is things like this pod, similar to peas and beans. Anything that is a pea or a bean-shaped, (in this case the native Cassia), the seed inside is dry, so it’s really easy to save.

This also extends to other native plants that we might have. Things like, this is Melaleuca. It has seeds on it that dry really readily right through to things like lettuces, calendulas and marigolds; different seeds that I have, here right through to things like this amazing looking seed pod that’s occurred on the Strelitzia, or the bird of paradise plant.

You will need a few things to start, when you embark on dry seed saving. Firstly, you need something to collect the seeds in. I find that paper bags are the easiest. You can use old envelopes; they are quite good for larger amounts of seeds. Anything at all that's paper and that's basically just to collect your seeds initially and to dry them to the next stage.

I'm never without a paper bag and pen in the glove box of the car, because when you're out and about you’ll see something. In fact, you will find paper bags and pens in my handbags as well, because you can often grab seeds while you're out and about.

In terms of drying the seeds, paper is good. Sometimes people buy these cloth bags. They are for either putting laundry in or for buying fruit and storing your fruit in the refrigerator, rather than using plastic bags. I find them really terrific for big bunches of seed. I put the seed inside and then hang them undercover.

We've got an undercover veranda out of the sun, but there is good warmth and it's protected from the rain. The seeds dry really well in those [holds up mesh bag] and even small seeds don't come through because the mesh is so fine. You’ll find them in supermarkets and $2 stores.

The other thing you will need for your seed cleaning is a variety of different sieves. You can use ones that you use in the kitchen. I usually go to second hand stores or $2 stores and you'll find that you get all different sizes and different grades of mesh. There are commercial seed saving sieves that you can buy, but they are several hundred dollars to buy a set of them. I think this works just as well for most people.

The hardest thing for anyone to learn initially is when the seed is ready. Most people either harvest their seed far too early or far too late.

Take something like this little white salvia here. It’s a great little one that pops up all over the garden and I've given lots of seed away to people. The stage that we want to save it at is when it basically is completely dead and looks like this [holds up dried flower spike]. So you leave it right until this stage.

I would pick these, pop into a paper bag and then write the name and the date on the outside. Often I write where I collected it from as well and then put them into a paper bag and let it dry. And eventually, maybe three or four weeks later or even longer, it'll get to the stage where I can just put it through a sieve. All the seed will come out naturally. You can be quite tough and crush it in the bag and you can get the seed out of that.

Now that spike seed there and spike flower is probably something that you might recognize as looking like perhaps, any other sort of salvia or a basil plant; any of your Lamiaceae plants. So things like rosemary; lavender; thyme, all have this sort of flower spike. So the same applies to them when you save the seed.

When it comes to the lettuce, the seed is ready about three days after flowering. You get a little flower, usually a yellow flower, on your lettuce plant once it's gone to seed and then you get these fluffy tops. It looks a bit like a weed because it's the member of the Asteraceae family (or daisy family), and all daisy plants are members of the same family, so the characteristics are the same. This one I dried for a week to ten days. If you want to just put a string around it and hang it up.

Put it in the garage or somewhere like that; in the laundry. You just have to be careful that one day you don't come out and find the seeds all over the floor. This is where these little bags coming in, because you can actually bag (the lettuce) and collect the seed.

If I pick off one of these seed heads (and I've done a few earlier for you), you can see that the seed is quite large and black. They are ready to be put into a sieve and cleaned for the next stage.

When it comes to our native plants, sometimes they can fool you a little bit. Here's an example of a Melaleuca and here is the current season’s flowering. Down here, we've already got some seed pods that are formed and often people think that's the stage to collect them, but unfortunately you have to wait longer than that.

I picked these ones here, just the other day, but I was careful to pick well down the stem so you can see this is the spent flower; and here is where it flowered last year; and that seed you can see is coming out all over the place, but it's very, very fine. So it just looks like dust and it'll just drop out into a paper bag or a plastic bag even when it's at this stage.

The trick with Melaleuca is to make sure that you look down the stem. Here is a larger one here; and you can see this one here on the end, that seed won't be ready for another twelve months. But the seed that's lower down here, this is all starting to shed now. You'll have to wait until the others dry out.  

Sometimes seeds are reluctant to come out of their container. If we look at something like this banksia cone, the seeds are actually hidden in under all the remnants of the flowers there. Next it gets to this stage and you can see these little protrusions here, where the seed is hiding. If you leave the cone for a very long time and it dries out you gradually find that these little mouths start to open - you know just like the big bad Banksia men in the story.

If you're impatient you can actually trick the seed by heating it. I just took a little bit of a blow torch to this one, but you can also wrap it in foil and put it in a warm oven; you could put it in foil and put it on the barbeque and toast it; or you can expose it directly to a flame. It's quite magical really. Normally this is where it comes with a warning, “Don't do this at home”, but in actual fact, I'm encouraging you to do this, because it's really great fun to watch the seed capsules open before your eyes.

If you do it safely with children, it's fascinating for them to watch. They can get the seed out by banging the seed (it will dry out over the next few days as well). You see that the seeds are amazing! They’re like little flat discs. So that's another trick with seed saving is you need to actually know what the seed looks like in order to know what you're going to save. But if in doubt, I always just collect the whole lot and sow everything.

Another example is collecting eucalypt pods. I collected these and just left them to dry for a while. When they were quite dry, I put them into this plastic bag and the reason I've done that is the seed is really, really fine.

I have one of those gel absorbing packets that come in different types of foods and that will absorb any extra moisture. You can also get them in capsule type. So you can reuse those, if you'd like.

Down the bottom here (in the bag), I’ll take a pinch out for you. This is what the seeds look like - so it's absolutely tiny. It's really, really fine and again it takes a long time to come out. It may take mature gum nuts six months for the seed be shed. Seed saving does take a bit of patience and you will, like me end up with a big box of things like this [shows box of envelopes containing dried seed pods).

Other seeds that are easy to save include marigolds; I’ve got some other lettuce here. We've got parsley - any of that group is really easy to save including fennel. Another daisy is the calendula.

This is a little pleated orchid. The capsule is really amazing. It's quite an interesting sort of shape and it's splits open and inside the seed is absolutely like dust. So it's very, very fine and there will be thousands of seeds inside there.

This one here, if I break it open contains seeds of the Strelitzia or bird of paradise plant. They are quite dry and all I need to do is break it open and take them out. The seeds are quite hard. They’ve got a little bit of orange. It's not really flesh. It's just like a beard, but again the seeds very, very, hard and I probably would put those in hot water (boiling hot water) before I sow them to actually make those seeds germinate.

Extracting your seed, sieving it and getting rid of all the rubbish is not the end of the story. If you're going to sow your seed straight away, you don’t have to be too fussy about getting the excess out. If you’re going to store it, it's really important to make sure your seed is clean and before we store the seed we freeze it.

This may seem a bit strange, but there are lots of insects that are on seed heads like this and some of those insects love getting into the seed itself; into the seed coat. I take seeds that I’ve cleaned - here I have some capsicums. They're pretty easy. I don't bother washing them. I just scrape them out of the capsicum and dry them. Here I've have parsley seed (there’s a little label inside the bag).

I take these and dry them really well. Once clean, I leave them to dry for a week or two depending on the seed. Pop them in a glass jar and put them in the freezer. They need to freeze for 24-48 hours. The idea is it actually kills any of the insect eggs or the insects themselves without actually harming the seed.

After that you can take them out and just store them in a sealed container where it's dark and cool or if you want to you can leave them in the freezer.

You can make up your own seed packs. You can use envelopes and just run them through your printer. I like to use old magazines or coloured pages, do a template and make up my own seed packs.

It's great because you can share seeds with friends. You can post them and you can join a seed exchange group in your local community so you have access to many, many more seeds. Seed saving is easy, particularly when we’re saving dry seeds, so why don't you give it a go.

Last updated:21 May 2020