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.
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.
In 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. The 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.
Once 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.