Seed to seed: A reverent act

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— To me, raising and collecting seeds for future generations is a reverent act. Collecting the seed of any plant completes a cycle begun when the first seed was planted in the earth. By growing and collecting seeds, we are able to connect with ancient practices that have played a critical role over generations in the preservation of food, medicine, fiber, fuel and ornamental plants

Seeds are cleaned either through a wet or dry process

Clean the seeds by sifting them through small screens to separate the chaff from the seeds. Any chaff left may hold moisture later, causing mildew or mold, which will kill the seed. The cleaner the seeds are, the better they'll grow when planted. Old bread pans and bowls of different sizes are useful to handwork small batches so that heavier chaff material can be picked out.

Done correctly, most of the chaff can be eliminated if you move the seed around in the pan while blowing gently and steadily. Don't blow too hard; it is not all that much fun to pick thousands of seeds off the floor.

When seeds are collected, their moisture content is usually higher than desirable for good storage. Allowing seeds to dry on supporting plant material is helpful, as the other plant material will tend to draw moisture from the seeds. Moving warm, dry air around the seeds will also lower their moisture content.

Remember, however, that seeds are living organisms: Avoid drying with high heat if you want viable seeds. When seeds are thoroughly dry, they will break rather than bend; it may take several weeks to achieve this, so be patient. I use a dark, unheated spare bedroom for drying seed.

Moisture content and temperature are the two most important variables in successful seed storage. Each 1 percent reduction in seed moisture content (down to about 6 percent) doubles seed life. Each 10 percent reduction in temperature (down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit) doubles seed life. Seeds can be safely stored in airtight, well-sealed containers, either glass or plastic, with silica gel packets (available at many craft stores) to absorb excess moisture that may cause seeds to either mold or germinate prematurely.

A few grains of dry rice or some powdered milk wrapped in a tissue can also help to absorb moisture.

As a general rule, temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit work well for maintaining long-term seed viability, making a refrigerator the ideal storage facility. However, if you do store seeds in a refrigerator, do not keep them in the same compartment with fruits and vegetables. Some fruits (apples, for example) give off a chemical as they ripen that will inhibit the germination of many species of seeds. Alternately, many seeds store quite well in any cool, dry and dark location. Although some seeds require exposure to cold temperatures for a period of time to break dormancy, many others will not survive prolonged freezing, making a freezer a risky storage facility.

Have fun and enjoy your seed to seed garden.

Kathy Conlon is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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