Saving wet seeds with Annette McFarlane - video transcript

This page is a video transcript of the Saving wet seeds with Annette McFarlane video hosted on Brisbane City Council's YouTube channel. This video is 16 minutes and 4 seconds long.

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

The narrator for this video is Annette.


>> ANNETTE: Hello I'm Annette McFarlane. Welcome to this session on saving wet seeds.

Wet seeds are simply seeds with the flesh around them. We have to remove that flesh generally to save seeds if we want to store them for a long period of time.

What does this flesh do around the seed? Look at something like a delicious pawpaw. If you've ever had problems with bats or possums eating your fruit, you will know that it's so attractive to animals. This is a way that the seed is dispersed. The flesh around the seed often is an aid to dispersal of the seed and it performs a very important function.

Sometimes the flesh is so bitter it’s meant to deter animals. Nothing eats the seed of my Davidson plums, because it is so bitter. One bite and the animal will leave it alone.

The other thing about the flesh around the seed is that it drops to the ground; the flesh decays and breaks down and so there's an immediate supply of compost ready for the seed to germinate. But also within that flesh and within the material surrounding the seed there are natural chemical inhibitors.

A lot of the things that produce wet seeds are often annual crops. Think about something like a tomato. You might have experienced trying to grow tomatoes by just putting a tomato fruit into the ground. It just takes ages to come up.

However, if you've thrown tomatoes into your compost and you use that compost to plant something else, you get a mass supply tomato seedlings coming up randomly without you doing anything. That's because the natural inhibitors in the flesh around the seed are designed to stop the seed germinating because these plants don't want to necessarily germinate straight away.

At the end of the summer-autumn fruiting season and going into winter, is not a good time for a tomato to germinate in the majority of climates. So the composting process breaks down those natural seed inhibitors and when the temperature is right, usually in September, the seed germinates. So that's the same process that happening in your compost.

When we want to store our seeds, we can't have flesh around them. Sometimes we want the seed to germinate straight away, if the weather conditions are right. So washing the seed is a way of removing the natural chemical inhibitors. It's also a way of making sure that the seed doesn't rot when we store it for a period of time.

Some wet seeds do need to be sown immediately. They don't store if they are dried out. Others can be dried and saved for one, two or more seasoned and will still remain viable.

Take this pawpaw. This is absolutely full of seeds. It's really, really delicious.  They are lovely at this time of year, (towards the end of summer and into autumn) because they've had all that lovely summer sun to sweet them. Usually a winter harvest is not so tasty.

If you make a comparison here between the seeds (fresh and dried) when I put them on the plate, you can see that they are covered with a lot of flesh.

You can sow the fleshy seeds straight away, but it's very difficult to store the seeds for any length of time with all that flesh around them because the seed rots.

Here are some seeds that I've washed. If you look closely they almost look like dried currants. That's what you are aiming for in removing the flesh from the outside if you want to store the seed.

To help removal of that flesh, I take the seeds out and I ferment them for a few days or week. You'll find that the flesh will wash off fairly easily.

All you have to do is to pop the seeds into a sieve with water. You can be fairly abrasive pushing your hand around to get rid of that flesh, but if you've fermented the seeds (in a bowl or in a jar), you'll find the flesh, comes away more easily.

It is the same with a lot of seeds. To remove the flesh on the outside, soaking and fermenting the seeds is a good idea. It also means that you kill a lot of pest problems. The seed cleaner and free of things like mites and even fruit fly and other things like that, that may be in the flesh surrounding the seed itself.

Also remember, try and get a pawpaw that's local to your area. It's easy to buy a pawpaw and grow the seed from it, but that doesn't mean that the pawpaw will perform in your climate.

If you live in Brisbane and you get a pawpaw that comes from Cairns, chances are that will require a different set of conditions of temperature and have different disease resistance compared with something that's grown in Brisbane. So the trick is with pawpaw, if you find a great variety growing locally, ask the gardener if you can have some seeds. Then you'll be able to grow one like this as well.

When it comes to other fleshy crops like tomatoes (really popular for seed saving), remember tomatoes need to be really, really ripe - the same as the pawpaw.

These little cherry tomatoes are really quite soft. They're probably a bit beyond the stage of really putting them on a cracker biscuit or putting them in a salad, but they're perfect for seed saving.

You can save from small tomatoes or from large-fruited tomatoes. You can save ones from the supermarket or you can save varieties that you've grown yourself.

I have fermented and then washed the seed thoroughly and left it to dry. It's quite different to the seed that we're just taking out of the flesh which is covered in a sort of jelly-like substance.

The great thing about seed saving from tomatoes is you can save the seed, but still eat the rest of the tomato, if it is not too soft. We need to get rid of the jelly-like substance to store the seeds for any length of time and to give them away to friends or to share them with seed saver networks.

A lot of people just take a tomato and put it on a piece of paper.  They squash the fruit, leave it to dry and save their seeds that way. That's fine. If you just want to do a few yourself at home, that is perfectly acceptable. It will store for 12 months and more. When you go to plant the seed, you can just tear the paper up into pieces and then plant them where you want them to go.

I always make sure to try to name the piece of paper if I'm doing it that way, because otherwise you can't distinguish one variety of seeds from the other.

Tomatoes are really pretty easy, but if you want to save them for the longer-term it's really important to make sure you get rid of that flesh.  That flesh has a natural chemical inhibitor, so if I was to take this tomato and just plant into the ground I might wait at 12 months before the tomato would come up. However, if I clean the seed, then plant, it'll be up in 7 to 10 days. So certainly there are some advantages in cleaning it.  

When it comes to eggplants, size is not an indication of the maturity of the plant in terms of its seed collection. An eggplant like this small one, you might think that it is not going to be ready for seed saving, but it depends on the variety because they come in all different shapes and sizes.

You might think this eggplant would be perfect for seed saving possibly, being so large, but when I open it up and have a look inside these seeds in here are really, really tiny.  I mean you can hardly even see where they are and that means that this really doesn't have any seeds that are worth saving.

They just look like tiny little dot, whereas this is the size that the seed should be - really quite large. We need to let our eggplants change colour, regardless of the variety. It generally goes a yellow, straw colour and by then it's ready to save the seeds from it. It really needs to be collapsed and completely unusable for eating before you start to look at saving the seeds from it.

Remember what we say about seed saving, whether it is wet seed saving or dry seek saving: 'Save the best and you eat the rest'. Always pick the best, largest, luscious, most disease resistant fruit for your seed saving.

Just like the eggplant, when it comes to something like cucumbers, this is the size that we would normally pick a cucumber - this size or smaller. If I scrape out the centre, you can see the cavities where the seed is starting to form, but virtually there's nothing.

There are no seeds and so if you're buying a cucumber, or you’re growing some yourself at home, really they have to be fully mature which means they'll be enormous and I'll turn yellow. When they have gone really mushy and they smell disgusting, that's the stage at which you’re ready as the seed has to be quite large. Make a comparison between a packet of seed or seed you have sown previously and a cucumber fruit and you'll find there's quite a difference.

I also find with cucumbers that probably 50% of the seed is really flat and empty. You see that when you're saving seed. Probably only 50% of the seed will be viable. But there are tons of seeds, so don't worry too much.

When you've washed them and you've cleaned them in your bowl and they are all ready to go, I find the easiest thing to do is put them on a tea towel. You can put them on newspaper or use any other sort of paper. A lot of people do you use paper, but I find the seed often very hard to get off. I drop a sieve of cleaned seed on to the tea towel; I then spread the seeds out. Once they are dry, I can scrape the seeds off and they come off really easily.

Some people also use baking paper. Seeds don’t stick to that. It is another alternative for you to think about.

Finally, I'm often asked can I take seeds from a citrus fruit and grow it from seed. Well the answer is yes and no. Citrus generally are grafted and they are grafted for particular reasons.

If we graft citrus we get better, more even growth; we get disease resistance of the rootstock which is conferred into the mature plant. They can grow across a wide range of climates and soil type; so there are really good reasons why we graft citrus.

If we grow a citrus (perhaps we have a lemon), we take the seeds out and grow them, they do germinate. But they won't come up anything like the parent plant. It will be completely different; very thorny and the flesh may sour and not like the parent plant itself.

There are some citrus we can grow from seed. Most of us at home grow Tahitian limes. Obviously you can't grow that from seed, because it doesn't actually have any seeds in it.

There are other limes, plenty of them too.  This is what we call a West Indian lime. It's a smaller lime and it has lots of seeds inside.  It is a true tropical lime and you can grow them from seed. Sometimes you do find them in the nursery as grafted plants, but you can grow your own from seed.

The seeds inside here are really quite large. The only thing with these you need to make sure that you are sowing them fresh. I've left them in a little bit of juice. I'll sow them fresh, rather than letting them dry out in anyway because you can't keep them.

The foliage looks a normal lime, but prickly and it grows as a relatively small plant. So you can grow West Indian lime.  

This is a Rangpur lime. It is a hybrid lime and it's a cross between a Citron and mandarin and an orange.

There's also the lime we recognize by the figure 8 shape of the leaf and this one of course is the kaffir lime; false lime or makrut lime. This is a seedling I've pulled out of the ground. They come up from seed underneath the parent plant. Collect the seed, keep it moist and sow it to grow one from seed.

Can you grow native finger limes? If you happen to have a permit to collect native seeds from the bush as some of our commercial nurseries and bush care groups do, you can grow traditional native limes in that way from seed, but they are variable. The ones we grow in nurseries usually are selected hybrids, like this fruit here which is from the Sunrise lime range.

You can grow it from seed, but they come up like this. They look really, really prickly and they are not likely to bear the same sort of fruit as the original parent plant.

But you can grow them from seed and sometimes, if you're very, very lucky, out of one tray of seeds you might select one plant that has similar foliage to the parent plant. This is an indication that it's likely to have inherited more of the desirable characteristics.

This one I've grown from seed is about 18-month old. Will it bear the same or better fruit than its parent plant? Who knows? It's all a bit of experiment.

That's the fun of saving and collecting and sowing your own seeds. Why not give it a go. It's great fun. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Last updated: 11 May 2020