"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saving Seed - Belgian Endive & Red Giant Celery

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.

The blue flowers of Belgian endive attract a variety of insects like this sweat bee
All endive seeds are tightly encased, and quite difficult to remove in large amountsPounding the dry endive stalks with a rake in order to separate the seeds from their housing
Straining the smaller chaff and seed from the larger debris

I find the easiest way to remove the finer chaff from a large amount of seed is to simply use a fan, set on low for these lighter seeds, and carefully pour the seed from one container to another letting the fan blow the chaff away. This works especially great with wheat and flax seeds. Keep in mind that sometimes the chaff outweighs the seed and both may blow away in the wind if you are not careful. The fan speed and distance from the seed being poured has to be adjusted for different types of seed.

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.


Chiot's Run said...

What a great idea to use these jars to saving seeds. I don't do much seed saving, I don't have room to let thigns go to seed. Plus I like trying different varieties all the time.

Stefaneener said...

I like your description of the time it takes. It reminds me a tiny bit of making bread. Folks are horrified to think I spend "all day" making bread, when what it really takes is lots of little times interspersed.

That is a LOT of seed. When I saved the kale seed from one plant, I was stunned at how many seeds it produced. Turns out it was actually two plants, one of them being tat soi, but still. Many, many seeds. I look forward to saving seeds of the favorites I grow.

Roasted Garlicious said...

Mr. H you and your wife truly amaze me!! i have some endive going to seed but definately not ready yet, and in my case it was 'what are those plants?' and then they flowered.. the answer was Endive! my celery i always overwinter in the garden and except for last year, usually get seeds the second year.. alas last year's snow made the wee critters very hungry and celery was on the menu!!!

Naomi said...

REALLY enjoyed this post - I'm learning more about seed saving in my own garden too. Thanks for sharing :)

Mr. H. said...


We have been saving all of our glass jars for years and they are coming in pretty handy...especially for seed saving purposes. I try to save the glass ones as they help keep moisture out better but plastic will do in a pinch.

I agree with you, one of funnest parts about gardening is trying all the different varieties.

Mr. H. said...


I was once asked why I would expend so much effort growing dry beans when a bag of beans from the store only costs a few dollars. My answer was, as always, so that I know how to if they are no longer available at the store. Of course that comment still went over the persons head...what can you do.

Why spend time baking a loaf of bread instead of buying one...so you know how, that and it probably is far more nutritional and tastes much better.

I will never understand why so many people want to rely on the "system" for their needs rather than learning how to do a few thing for themselves. Like saving some of your own seed, Kale really does put out a lot of seed.

I can smell cornbread as I write this and know that there is a pot of potato soup in the works...I am looking forward to a nice homemade dinner tonight. The best part! It is my wife's turn to cook.:)

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

Endive always seems to take a terribly long time before it goes to seed. Last years winter played havoc on our overwintered crops as well. I have my fingers tightly crossed that this one will be a little more mild. Although I just heard on the news to expect snow above 3,000 feet next week, were at 2,100...brr

Mr. H. said...


Thanks! Saving ones own seed is as rewarding as it is challenging. I try to think of it as a hobby because it is so very time and space consuming. Good luck on your own seed saving ventures.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

That celery looks like a great crop. I keep meaning to start celery as it is such a important cooking vegetable. I guess that tomatoes and squash just ignite so much more of my excitement when seed buying time comes. I hereby publicly vow to start some next year.

Also have really started focusing on saving seed this year. I think of it as closing the circle.

Mr. H. said...


I saw that you saved a bunch this year, it can be a bit of a pain to tie your garden up with plants going to seed but the knowledge of how to do so definitely outweighs that annoyance.

Celery is a great vegetable and can be dug up, potted, and forced in the middle of winter for greens as well. It is pretty easy to grow as long as it gets enough water. I highly recommend growing both heirloom and hybrid celery though as some of the heirlooms tend to bolt to seed if the weather is not favorable.

LynnS said...

Like others, I'm in awe of your seed saving work. I've not tried saving seed of biennials. Not ever tried growing celery, either, figuring I'd never give it enough water to do the veggie justice. After your great comment to Farmer Rick, I wonder if you'd come up with a full blown post on celery. I'd like to give it a try next year, too, and would love some pointers, esp with F1 versus heirloom varieties. Celery is definitely an excellent cooking vegetable and so easy to dehydrate.

(Got a kick out of your 17-second winnow-vid!)

Mr. H. said...


I would love to do a post on celery and will try to do so in a couple weeks when we harvest our celeriac and celery. Both did pretty well for us this year even though it was pretty darn hot this summer...stay tuned.:)

Mike said...

To break Endive seed out I just throw all the flowers on a hard tray when they're completely dry, then roll over them hard with a rolling-pin. Then winnow just as you do. Takes only a minute, and the seeds themselves are so tough they don't even notice. ;-)

Then, too, I allow Endive to seed itself, which it does quite freely, providing gourmet chicken-feed!

Mr. H. said...

Hi Mike,

Great idea, I will keep that in mind for next year. We also let a lot of ours self seed and have a special row of chicory that is pretty much just used to feed the chickens...they love it.

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

I found harvesting celery is very challenging as the seed do not ripen at once and you cannot pull out the plant. Instead I have to juggle between holding scissors an container around the plant to collect ripen seed and the plant is so much taller than me. But a few minute snip is already enough for at least 10years.

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