Before Monstanto, before Walmart, and before any modern hybrid seeds available in convenient packets, humans saved seeds from season to season. This brought us closer to our land, to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and to our own food. These saved seeds, which were adapted to the particular climate and carefully chosen from the best fruit or plants available, were unique and wonderful. In my own family’s history, we have journals detailing how when the women came over from Ireland, they stitched the seeds into their skirts to make sure they didn’t get stolen–their seeds were that important to their family’s prosperity. Today, “seed savers” are those individuals who continue the practice of saving seeds and preserving old lines of seeds. In a previous post, I detailed some good reasons for saving seeds and using heirloom-only varieties. In this post, I’m going to talk about saving two kinds of seeds–lettuce and spinach.
Spinach and Lettuce Seed Saving
Two early spring greens you can grow each year are spinach and lettuce. While the harvests of these two greens come quickly and with ease, saving the seeds requires quite a bit of waiting. Saving seeds from either plant is fairly easy, however. Basically, rather than harvesting all of your lettuce or spinach, you let them grow. Eventually, the plant will “bolt” which means it starts getting ready to produce seed (and for both, it means they don’t taste good at all). Lettuce and spinach will both grow up in a tall, stalk with short leaves jutting out the whole way up the stalk.
For Spinach, seeding takes about 50-60 days for the varieties I’ve been growing (American, Winter Giant, and Purple Passion). Once you see the seed forming, just let that plant keep growing. Eventually, the spinach will die and start to dry out and fall over–and THIS is when you collect it up. I usually harvest it and hang it upside down for another week or two just to be sure.
For lettuce, the seeding process actually takes a little longer, around 70-80 days. You’ll see your lettuce start to get little puffs–it works a lot like a dandilion. The puffs open up, and if you are unlucky, your lettuce seed all blows away. You can capture it by shaking it into a bag. Or you can dry the stalk right before it opens up. I let so much lettuce seed that I don’t notice much loss from the wind. Like spinach, when they are at their seeding stage, you can hang them upside down for a week or so.
Once you have let your stalks dry, you can either carefully pull the seeds from the stalks and heads, or you can just put the whole stalk/head in a bag and store it that way. I usually opt to do this, then I can hand out seeds to friends and they see the seed still on the stalk, reminding them about seed saving practices. I also make sure to date my seeds, as most seeds are only good for a few years. Keep the bag somewhere dry, cool, and dark.