Saving your own seed often consists of many challenges, and can definitely test one's resolve...and patience. I was thinking about this late yesterday afternoon as I was close to finishing the seed processing of two of my biennial garden vegetables. A project whose inception begin in early spring 2008 and was just now, almost 20 months later, coming to a conclusion. I was able to reap ample rewards of Red Giant celery and green & red Belgian endive seed, but what an amazing commitment of time for the seed saver.
As both of these crops are biennials I had to plant, grow, overwinter, and replant them in order to see them through until seed. I overwintered the majority in buckets of dirt in our root cellar, but also hilled some into the garden to see if they could manage the winter outside. They overwintered successfully both ways. The Belgian endive did great in the the cellar and undercover of snow. While I did lose half of the celery left outdoors those that lived put out more copious amounts of seed than their cellared brethren. You can see how we overwinter some of these veggies in an earlier post Forced To Provide .
The Belgian endive forms seeds that are firmly encased in their pod and can be very time consuming to remove if working with large amounts of seed. I start by cutting the seed stalks after the majority have finished flowering and many of the seeds are dry and leave them in a safe place out of the weather to finish drying for a couple weeks. They are then placed in a wheelbarrow and the seed is pounded out of them, I used a garden rake but any type of flail would work. After they had received a good thrashing as punishment for taking so long to produce viable seed :) I removed the larger debris and sifted the remaining chaff and seed through a strainer. This still left me with a lot of smaller chaff and dust surrounding the seed.
Straining the smaller chaff and seed from the larger debris
The finished product ready to be stored away for next season's gardening adventures
Red Giant celery, like most of the seeds I collect, is easy to clean while being harvested. The hard part is the time involved in retrieving the seed as each seed umbel drys at different times. So every third day finds me collecting the dry seed before it shatters and falls to the ground. Again, very time consuming.
Red Giant celery, an open pollinated heirloom that does well in our garden
Our overwintered celery began flowering in late June and a few are still blooming
Once dry, the seeds will easily fall off the plant if not carefully removed every few days
Celery seeds picked last night, they are easily cleaned as there is no real chaff
We have been most fortunate to successfully save the seeds off a number of biennial plants this year: certain flowers, carrots, beets, endive, celery, kale, broccoli, and a number of plants that have slipped my mind as of this post. It has been a seedy good year.