Posted in Seeds

A roundabout tale of seed saving.

Especially when you are still rather new to gardening, sometimes when you want to add another plant to your garden, research into the specifics can be a bit of a surprise or even shocking.  Even if it has a seemingly innocuous common name such as “Grandpa Ott”.

So blurry!
If you squint, you can see the tips of the sprouts.

I had been given a gift card, and I grabbed the Grandpas trying to get closer to the total worth of the card.  It wasn’t until after that purchase and also after I scratched the edges and put them in water that I went to the internet and realized I’d yet again fallen for a flower that was not going to help my goal of introducing more natives to our garden.  So I already knew by the time they had sprouted that they were not a native here, but I figured given my previous luck with starting pretty much any flower from seed overall, they likely wouldn’t survive anyway, even though there were a few I’d put in the water sprouting–so why not? (Go ahead, laugh at this bizarre act of mental justification gymnastics I did–I don’t mind.)

Of course, I might as well have just sent an engraved invitation to Mr. Murphy, who always loves to stop by and remind me how the world works.  Still, I had an empty trellis that needed filling in my office window view, and I wasn’t quite sure that the Northern Blackberry, Rubus flagellaris, creepers long entrenched in that bed would be anxious to climb up quite that high. [Narrator: They weren’t, but the oriental bittersweet sure did!]  I also had another goal, to use the Hidden Treasure Trellis as well to try to improve a rather dull view out my eastern kitchen window (though it was woefully inadequate for this vigorous grower.)

Speaking of the Hidden Treasure Trellis…I didn’t think the Grandpas would do well there because I didn’t think they’d get enough sun, but I still put it exactly where I could see it out our eastern kitchen window because all I ever saw when I looked out there was old wood fence and usually burdock trying to seed YET AGAIN in the narrow strip of ground between the fence and the edge of our driveway.  I was confident, however, that the trellis by my window would because that spot got so much more sun.  Of course, the blackberry creepers not only didn’t want to go very far up the trellis, but despite my best attempts to clear a patch for the Grandpa Otts I planted there, they absolutely refused to break ground even though they had successfully started to sprout indoors.  The creepers were more than happy to take over the small patch I’d cleared and at that point I just let them.  My dream of having a lovely office window view come mid summer was dashed because both the mostly empty trellis and any oriental bittersweet I didn’t catch before it started climbing was all I could see on the leftmost side of my view.

2020 being the year it was, I did not take as many pictures as I meant to nor was I consistent.  I did try to document the progress once they broke ground and I was sure I was looking at the Grandpa Ott variant of Morning Glories, Ipomoea purpurea.  By the time it was August, I instead was more focused on the flower formation, hence the close up.  You can’t really see how I’d pretty much been retraining the two vines to interlace up and down as well as across the full width of the trellis to attempt to keep them from growing over to the neighbor’s side of the fence.  (They found a way through the gap in the boards and a bit over the top anyhoo.  Thankfully she was a good sport about it and thanked me for sharing my flowers with her.)  The last shot out my window was taken in a rush to show a friend how they’d done overall.

Here’s all the progression images I have from last year of how they grew, giving me pretty much what I wanted when I looked out that window–anything but just that poor old fence andd low ground cover:

So this year (yes, I’m doing this again), a different trellis will be used for them.  That’s months away from worry right now.  And now I backstep to the wiki.  These are the two bits I was not expecting to see when I looked up:

The triangular seeds have some history of use as a psychedelic; they, like I. tricolor, may contain LSA.  Effects are reported to be somewhat similar to those of LSD.

Ok, so I’ll be growing a potential controlled substance in my yard. But so do many neighbors! There must be more to that. Ah…right here:

Commercial morning glory seeds are commonly treated with toxic methylmercury, which serves as a preservative and a cumulative neurotoxic poison that is considered useful by some to discourage their recreational use. The US has no legal requirement to disclose to buyers that seeds have been treated with a toxic heavy metal compound. According to the book Substances of Abuse, in addition to methylmercury, the seeds are commonly coated with a chemical that cannot be removed with washing that is designed to cause unpleasant physical symptoms, such as nausea and abdominal pain. The book states that this chemical is also toxic.

Well alrighty then…guess I better save some seeds so I don’t keep putting more toxic metal in the ground!  Out of curiosity, since it’s not required by law, I dig out the envelope and find this a sideways box in tiny all caps print:


I guess that’s a good enough for Burpee, eh? “We warned them!” No mention of the chemical just in case someone’s child or pet happens to get in the seeds and eat a bunch, so maybe they’d know to at least make a phone call to enquire if they should bring in said ingestor? Call me crazy, but it does stand to reason.

So, then fall happens, and the plant starts dying back because we’re in New England. I don’t know how many of the seeds had already been snatched by critters at that point or even dropped on the ground and were hidden by greenery, but I took the whole thing down and snagged as many seed pods as I could see without carefully unwinding every last inch that had been woven back into itself in my effort to keep it contained on the Hidden Treasure Trellis.

Even though the image below is at the top, I’m putting it here again so it’s easier to reference.  The contents of the three bowls from left to right: our compost bowl we usually keep on a windowsill in the kitchen (which also has spent tea leaves in it); the small glass bowl is the actual saved seeds I’d done so far (this was actually my third time doing this–I’ve been fitting it in as I could); and the much bigger metal bowl is the mass of pods/vine bits I’ve still not gotten to yet.

Lady Sylvie made sure to leave a sign of herself.
First season working with these morning glories.

If you’ve not done this before, it’s pretty straight forward as this plant has no thorns to fret about.

  1. You look for the pea shaped bits,
  2. pluck them off the stem if they’re still attached,
  3. crush them between your fingers into one palm of your hand (this can feel a bit rough because of the inner structure of the pod and the edges of the seeds),
  4. then fish out the mostly black triangular seeds and put them in the seed bowl,
  5. and then dump the leavings in your palm in the compost bowl.

The size of pods and seeds does vary, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll probably do another pass through the little bowl to pick out any that seem a bit malformed, are really tiny, or just detritus bits that accidentally made it into the seed bowl.  Depending on how long you let them stay outdoors and how developed they were or not, some seeds in the pods will simply crumble into dust.  I seem to recall this primarily with the smallest of pods from what I’ve done so far.

The seeds I’ve collected so far are more often a bit larger than I expected, given what was in the envelope I bought (and what remains since I didn’t try to use the entire envelope).  They’re not terrifically bigger, but enough are that I noticed the slight difference.  I don’t know whether that’s due to me picking out only the biggest seeds to start in water last year, or the seed company’s growing practices or what, but it is something I noticed.

One of the reasons I’m saving so many is I plan to use more this year (and depending on some decisions, that will mean more than a few on top of what’s left in the envelope), and I’m giving the rest away.  Some I’m sending to a friend down south that has a huge length of chain link fence on one side of his property and would like to have something else to look at, much like I felt about the old wood fence.  (I’m also sending him some peas, but that’s just for variety in the view plus I’ve always found this strain of peas dead easy to grow.)  As you can see from what’s still in the metal bowl, I’ve got more to do and from what I know I’ve already done, that glass bowl may almost be too small to fit them.  It’ll be interesting to see once I’m done if my estimation is right.  This is one of the larger flower seeds I’ve saved so far–most have been smaller varieties.  An example of a smaller size I’m more used to is on the top of this year’s planting page.  Those are from a volunteer Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, we had this year which loved to stick to my wool sweater when I got too close, hence the dark fuzz you see in the bowl with the seeds.

Each year, I’ve been trying out different places to store seeds.  Cool, dark place is the usual mantra.  I don’t know if it will make a difference in yield, but if I keep more accurate records this year then maybe I’ll have a better chance to find out.  This year, I’m keeping seeds (not bulbs!) in the closet in this room.  It’s a lot handier than putting them in the cellar if I need to look at my seed containers for any reason.  I’ve almost got a better indexing system set up so I don’t have to do that after this year, but 2020 being 2020–that didn’t happen.  So much didn’t in the garden this year, which I’ll probably bemoan again in the future.

Questions, comments or advice is welcome below.

[Later Edit: I made a foolish decision one late night.  I thought I could speed the process up by simply getting rid of all the stems, then rolling each seed pod between my fingers in the same bowl.  My thought at the time was that if I filled the bowl with water, all the lighter dead plant bits would float to the top and would be easy to skim off.  The seeds did not weigh as much as I thought they would, and they floated as well.  Don’t be like foolish Past Me and try this.]

Care to share thoughts on this?