During the past week at Harvest Moon, we began the process of collecting seeds to save for planting next season. Seed saving is not a new concept, in fact it is always necessary for sowing another year’s crops, but with today’s seed catalogs and tidy packets, it has fallen out of much practice. This was my first experience in collecting seeds, and it gave me great pleasure to know that the effort we were putting in would provide us with the materials for future gardens, free of charge.
The seeds ready for harvesting at this point in time were sage and kale. To collect the sage seeds, we broke off stalks from the plant, which each sprouted many dried flower heads. Inside a head lay three perfectly round dark brown seeds. To release the seeds, you could pull back the petals to break the flower open or squeeze the base to crinkle the leaves and free the seeds from within. The petals and seeds were arranged in such a way that the seeds would not simply roll out but had to be loosened, suggesting an evolutionary development that would ensure dispersal at the proper time. The perfection of this minute capsule was fascinating as it so clearly demonstrated the progress that must have taken place over time to optimize propagation. The crushing of the dried sage leaves also released the delicious fragance of the plant, reminding us of the wonderful seasoning that the seeds would provide as future plants themselves.
We collected the seeds into small jars that we will leave open for a little while to ensure that the seeds are fully dry before storing them away until planting. Sage seeds take a long time to germinate, so for those of us desiring a sage plant next year, we can plant a seed sometime in February, leave it in a windowsill, and hopefully by spring have a seedling that can be planted! And with the abundance of seeds that we collected, we could also grow extra seedlings to share with our friends. By saving our seeds, we create another opportunity for exchange between members of our community and the possibility of giving our seeds to introduce new people into a circle of growers.
For those who have not seen a second-year kale plant, it is a sight to behold. Kale is a biennal, so in its first year it remains fairly low to the ground, producing the big curly leaves that most are familiar with eating. But if it is left to overwinter, it will develop into a tree-like shrub that is only recognizable by the few characteristic leaves that remain at its base. The leaves in the second year will be quite bitter, but the kale tree will flower and produce seed pods, which can then be harvested to acquire seeds for the next season’s planting.
Not having much experience in the art of seed saving, I sometimes forget that each vegetable includes every requisite part of the plant, even though we may not consume every part ourselves. Just because we only traditionally eat the leaves of a kale plant does not mean that, left to its own devices, it won’t produce flowers and seeds as well. To see the second year kale tree is to be reminded of the whole cycle of plant development and to recognize that our tastes should not limit what we let grow. If we wish to be self-sustaining in our production of this food, it is necessary to leave some kale plants in the ground to live for a second year.
The seed pods of kale are long and thin, with two rows of seeds inside, separated by a papery white sheet. Once the pods were thoroughly dried, we were able to break the two sides apart easily and knock the knobbly seeds out of their shell. The seeds are beautifully multi-colored, creating an earth-toned mix when collected in a jar. We will store these too, and next spring, when it’s time to plant, we’ll each have a supply of seeds to produce new lives that will feed us once more.