Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

– Featured Image photo by: Nathaniel R. Schulz

“Inside of the seed is an entire forest.”

– R. A. Delmonico


I have a goal of better honoring sustainability in 2018. To speak these words, though, is to also commit to thinking several moves ahead, which sometimes proves difficult when balancing a career, volunteer hours, managing a household with two little ones and, now, tackling coursework for a Master Gardener’s certification. I mean, I’m decent at chess, but I’m no Bobby Fischer.

In doing some research on sustainability, I came across a great summary of what it means to garden sustainably. Planet Natural Resource Center defines the concept by saying:

“Sustainable gardening is one of the most important and effective sustainability practices that we can follow. Its practice and benefits include respecting, and improving the soils, using native plants, shrubs and trees to create beautiful landscapes, feeding one’s family fresh, organically-grown fruits, berries and vegetables and utilizing every renewable resource that nature provides, from rain water to gravel.”

Being that it’s finally winter, so-to-speak, here in North Texas, we can begin to sustain with a relatively easy task…harvesting seeds. If you are concerned that maybe the seed ship has sailed, bundle up and do a little outdoor exploring. I harvested several varieties last weekend, as some of the final seeds had not yet fallen. Fall/winter harvest on all of the species highlighted in this post can really stretch from October through January, depending on the brutality of the North Texas weather.  Old Man Winter has been pleasantly kind this year (excluding his somewhat irritable demeanor this past week). I collected eleven different varieties of seed from our pollinator garden, intent on expansion to new spaces and also to further my commitment to #plantsharenow with other enthusiasts. These eleven, I’ve categorized into four basic groups:  (1) the clusters, (2) the pom rockets, (3) the paratroopers and (4) the k-dots (kids doing their own thing).  I’ll discuss the first three in this post and follow up with category #4 next week. In terms of supplies for harvesting, I prefer to collect in brown paper lunch bags versus plastic bags, as plastic tends to promote condensation and mold. Once seeds are harvested and cured, dried out for a bit, we use Proterra Seed Envelopes for dividing, labeling and sharing our treasure.

You can understand how best to collect seed by first understanding the differences in plant varieties.  Pollinator gardens are full of what I call “clustered” flowers, such as our purple Celestial Mistflower, yellow Fennel and white Frostweed, shown below.  Being clustered blooms, their seeds will also cluster into quite a bounty, solidifying the truth that sometimes a little does, indeed, “go a long way.”

As these flowers cycle through their blooms and begin to dry, you will want to harvest when you see the color black.  You can easily see the black whorl of Celestial Mistflower seeds, ready for collection, in the center of the photo below (left). Notice directly below that, however, is a completely empty casing void of black. That’s when you say, “Bon voyage!” That ship has definitely sailed. Similarly, the Frostweed clusters in the second image (right) are full of nestled black seeds, and you can again notice the difference in the fully open and empty casings, further along the stem, in the lower right section of the photo.

Fennel clusters are a little different in that each tiny flower on the cluster produces one seed.  The seeds are ready when they appear as little dried footballs with black stripes (again black being key). If only nubs remain at the end of the stems, the seeds have already fallen.


The next category I’ve cutely coined the pom rockets due to how the flowers dry and how the seeds emerge. Once all petals wilt and fall away from blooms like the Blanket Flower (left) and Mexican Sunflower (right), shown below, you are left with a pom pom-like ball, housing dozens of seeds. But harvesting these seeds requires a little more effort and can be prickly, so slip on your gloves.

The pointed tip of the seed is wedged down toward the center of the ball, and the flat, butt-end is what you see from the outside when looking down into the casing. Note the butt-end of the Mexican Sunflower above (lower right) has a distinguishable black spot in the center to help you better “spot” the seed. I find that if you take the tip of a paring knife or the end of the blade on a good pair of hand pruners, I love the tool below by Cutco, you can pop the seeds right out. Line them up, and they look like little rockets shooting off into outer space, or preferably your soil, to work their magic.

Finally, there are those flower varieties that I place into the paratrooper category.  Examples of these might be Tropical Milkweed and Milk Thistle, below.

“Why paratroopers,” you ask? These seeds detach using lovely silken threads, like parachutes, to be carried by the winds to their final landing sites.  I absolutely love the paratroopers.  The Tropical Milkweed seed, shown lifting in the breeze below, is simply nothing short of poetry in motion.



It is worth noting, though, that paratroopers can be prolific. So if you don’t want ten thousand Milk Thistle popping up around your yard, I’d keep some of the jumpers in the plane. Just clip the blooms immediately after they flower, before the silk appears, and only selectively allow a few blooms to go to seed.

With a little effort and forward-thinking, we can all adopt some sustainable practices. Get out in your winter garden today and see which seeds you can still find hanging around for harvest. Keep some for your own spring garden, #plantsharenow with a friend and join me in a few days as we wrap up with tips on our final seed collection category…the k-dots.  Happy hunting everyone!

All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Images by: A. J. Schulz

Have any great tips on seed collection? Reply and share below.

3 thoughts on “Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

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  1. Love this, as it was the way my grandparents saved and shared crop seeds and flowers. At the end of the blooming season, they would tie small pouches of cheesecloth around the tops of the spent flower heads to catch the seeds when they dried. Later they would snip off the stem with the pouch attached when they cleaned up the garden. The seeds were ready for the new planting season.

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