Monday, 23 April 2012

Seed saving and other permaculture principals

The beautiful Madagascar Bean
On the weekend, I attended a seed saving workshop organised and run by some amazingly fervent inner west Sydneysiders, passionate about seed saving, permaculture, composting, bees and growing their own food in their backyards. The workshop was held in Michele Margolis' award winning backyard in Enmore and her sidekick Jane Mowbray, chronic seed saver. I had been thinking about saving my own seed for a while but have always been worried about not doing it properly and that my seeds would never come to fruition. However, after watching so many of the plants in my own garden pop up from seed that had been dropped - I thought, well, really, surely it cannot be that hard. And it really is not at all and I am going to be doing a lot more of it from now on. 

Jane collecting seed from a brassica
Saving seeds varies slightly between plants, mostly with plants that will fruit and then flower (e.g. broccoli, kale, spinach, carrot etc) as opposed to plants that flower and then fruit (e.g. tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant). 

Saving seed from vegies such as spinach, kale, mustard, lettuce etc let a couple of plants go to seed, let them dry out for a couple of weeks in the ground, pull them out and store them in a dry position and then collect your seed. 

Collecting seed from pumpkin and zucchini

Saving seed is not only a way to save money but it is important to maintain our heritage seeds so that we don't lose varieties in the future; "So?" you may have asked? "Why does it matter if we lose a couple of varieties of tomatoes or eggplant...Why does it matter?" Genetic diversity is important for the continuation of a species, and it's what drives change and adaptation in the living world. In the case of growing food and gardening, diversity insures that we'll be able to continue eating the plants we now eat. Many of the large chain supermarkets only sell a few (if that) varieties of fruit and vegetables. These vegetables are often picked too early and stored for long periods of time, often leaving them bland, tasteless and less nutritious. 

The advantage of picking from your own garden is that you know exactly where your food comes from, you know there will be no chemicals or pesticides used in the process and how easy is it to just head out the back to grab some lettuce or spinach leaves! Now, unless I had more time than I could probably grow more than I am able to but even if you are able to only grow a few things - it is definitely worth it. 

Chickens free-ranging!

Michele uses styro foam boxes to sow seed. These boxes can be picked up for free from fruit shops and supermarkets - they are a great way to start growing your own food, especially salad greens and herbs. I have some in my garden which are painted...a great activity to do with kids.

Turmeric - I don't have any growing in my garden but I have been inspired to plant some. Michele made a delicious  pumpkin and turmeric soup. YUM.

A good way to test your seeds reliability  - place them in a damp paper towel for a few days and  open  it up to see what the germination rate is. I will definitely be trying this technique. I think it will save a lot of frustration and heartache!

There are more workshops coming up so feel free to contact me if you are interested and I can lend you the details. 


  1. wow sounds like a great workshop Meg! Make sure you keep us posted about how your foray into seed saving goes xx

    1. Pearly, I have been saving heaps of seeds. I will be sure to keep a supply to sow when you get ready to plant up your garden. Today I planted out some broc, leeks and spinach which I grew from seed - oh so satisfying xxx

  2. such great tips Megs, where the pumpkins seeds just rinsed and then dried?
    xx jay

  3. sorry i meant 'were' not where! yikes my brain.

  4. Hi Jay, it depends what you want to use the pumpkin seeds for. The pumpkins that we were using at the workshop were from Vaucluse House kitchen garden and we suspected they had been picked before they were ready. Some of those pumpkins looked amazing but inside didn't have great colour and subsequently, probably poor taste. If you want to save the pumpkin seed to sow next season than yes, just wash them with cold water (some people say to use soapy water) and then leave to dry for a minimum of 3 weeks. If you want to roast and eat them - personally, I usually just pluck the seeds out and roast them and then usually eat them straight away...yum!

    1. thanks megs, yum i am familiar with the roasting and eating, but was interested in the saving for planting next year, i think previously i haven't let them dry out for long enough and soapy water, really? best wishes jay

    2. Yeah, so the soapy water isn't's just to get the pulpy, slimy stuff off. You can just use warm water. So just store the pumpkin for a few weeks to make sure the seeds inside are mature. Cut it open, scoop the seeds out and wash them. Use warm water but not hot. Pat them down and store in a dry place for about 3 weeks(no less) and then store them in a cool, dry place. One cool tip - to check the rate of germination - select some of the seed you have dried and place it between a few sheets of damp paper towels and leave for about a week (in my experience, pumpkins seem to take a little longer to germinate) - open up the towel after the week and some of the seeds should have begun sprouting and then you can work out the rate of germination by percentage. Get me? This is also a great activity to do with kids, both for science and maths. This is something I will be definitely doing in my own classroom :-)
      Also, depending on where you get your pumpkins from, some farmers and growers can pick the pumpkins too early (ideally they should be left on the vine until it dies off) and this means that the seeds are not mature, hence, leaving the pumpkin for a couple of weeks or if you know the grower, you could ask them.