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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Seed Saving at Sarah's Garden

This fall, Master Gardeners are collecting seed from California poppies, impatiens, larkspur, annual phlox, gaillardia, musk mallow, aster, bleeding heart and bachelor's buttons from Sarah's Garden at the David Davis Mansion Historic Site in Bloomington.

Without collecting seed each year, the Master Gardeners would be unable to maintain the 141-year-old garden's historic status. Letters let Master Gardeners and mansion staff know the kinds of plants grown in Sarah's garden, and entries revealed Sarah saved and started seed. Seed saved from Sarah's Garden is not only planted the next year or saved for three years in special vaults (well, McLean County Master Gardeners Kay Henrich's and Mary Jane Bohall' s refrigerators) but are sold in the mansion's gift shop. This year the powdery mildew on the zinnia prevented seed formation, forcing the Master Gardeners to dig into their vaults for next year's display.

When saving flower and garden seed from this season, you are selecting for the plants that do the best in your own backyard. These particular plants may be vigorous in your soil, have a larger blossom, bolder color, greater yield and improved flavor. For future seed-saving endeavors, here are a few tips:

-- Timing – Seed must be well-ripened to have enough energy to germinate. Seed should be collected from only the healthiest and most vigorous of plants on days with low humidity.

-- Seed process – If collecting from vegetables, harvest before fruit gets overripe and remove seed from pulp. Large seeds like squash, melon and cucumber should be washed and laid out to dry without allowing for reabsorption of water. Seeds of dill, sunflower, celosia, and calendula can be sifted through screen to remove chaff. Watch out for drying time on plants like fox glove and larkspur that will drop seed from lower flowers while the ones above will be in flower. Capsule seed pods like love in a mist and poppy can be shaken out through the opening on the top. Entire flower heads of marigolds and cosmos can be removed and placed in a paper bag.

-- Seed process for tomato – Tomato seeds must be fermented in the pulp for four days to prevent disease and break dormancy. Select the seeds that sink to the bottom.

-- Seed storage – Store your seeds dry and cool. Seeds must be dried well before being placed in sealed containers.

-- Labels – Always label seed with the plant name and the date the seed was collected.

-- Seed germination test – Place seeds in wet paper towel to test for germination viability and rate before planting.

To visit Sarah's Garden online, go the

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