Saving lettuce seed

The winter crop of lettuce has come to the usual end; up jumps the centre stalk to a metre high, yellow flowers set and seed heads like thistlefloss set as spring moves into summer and the bed dries out. It’s time to save these lettuce seeds for future crops.

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Lettuce seed is abundant and easy to collect; it needs to be, as I grow many hundreds of lettuces each year. These garden beds look pretty messy and dried out, but that’s seed saving for you – it looks chaotic, just like a small patch of wilderness would.

P1030593In collecting seed heads, I try to get a mix of the different lettuce varieties I’ve sown, though they are often hard to recognize by the time they’ve shot into their seed-producing stage. I wait for the fluff to appear after the lettuces have finished flowering then cut off the heads with secateurs and place them in large open brown paper bags for a week to let them dry off. It also gives the small bugs that live in the heads time to leave. I hang the bag on a hook in the shed out of the weather. P1030607The stalks and seed heads need to be really dry before proceeding else they will go mouldy in the seed tin. Luckily, all this seed setting happens in early summer…

When time permits, after other garden chores are done, its a simple process of putting the dried seed heads out into a deep plastic tray, then rubbing them together to release the seeds. One can go to a lot of trouble in the next stages to clean the seed from the thistledown and dry stalks, but its not really necessary. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t, and just put the lot in the seed tin.

P1030597Once the seeds are rubbed and I’ve decided on further cleaning, I just go outside into the breeze and blow across the seed tray while shaking it to get the lighter and finer stuff off. Then its out with the coarse then fine sieves, finally reducing the seed to that which will be stored. For safety, I dry this for another week or so in the summer warmth of the shed, and tin up the seed on a day of low humidity and clear skies.

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4 comments:

Alain said...

I also collect lettuce seeds. However, being in Canada the end of the growing season is rather wet and I have never managed to get such large quantities of seeds as in your pictures. I know what you mean when you say it is difficult to identify what variety you are dealing with once they have gone to seed.The plant can look quite different at that stage. A good many of my lettuce seeds are left out and some start growing on their own in the spring. Somehow these are always ahead of the one I seed. So in the spring there is lettuce volunteering all other the place but I let them grow where they want as they are always the first we can eat.

Andrew said...

Hi Alain
I like your method of letting the lettuces 'self-seed'; as you say, nature sets their timing perfectly and these self-sown seeds are often more successful and ahead of the ones you go to all that trouble to raise in the traditional fashion. It just makes for chaotic gardens, which I don't mind.
I spent a year in Ottawa Canada back in the early eighties, and grew a garden there. It's such a short growing season that I was only moderately successful. One has to practice in one's locality for many years to get it all to come together.
All the best
Andrew

Andrew said...

Hi Alain
I like your method of letting the lettuces 'self-seed'; as you say, nature sets their timing perfectly and these self-sown seeds are often more successful and ahead of the ones you go to all that trouble to raise in the traditional fashion. It just makes for chaotic gardens, which I don't mind.
I spent a year in Ottawa Canada back in the early eighties, and grew a garden there. It's such a short growing season that I was only moderately successful. One has to practice in one's locality for many years to get it all to come together.
All the best
Andrew

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