Seed Saving Season
It’s that time of year when canning (yes, we did just pick nearly 100 pounds of sweet cherries but that’s another post) and seed saving season begin. My fall planted veggies from last year are starting to go to seed so, let the games begin!
The parsley is shouting huzzah, with the many arms of its seed heads ready to erupt like fireworks. The onion seed heads, though more stately in their progress, are nonetheless lovely on their graceful stalks.
It was the kale that won the race to seed production this year, though, so we begin our seed saving journey with it.
Why Plant Kale?
May I just tell you that kale chips are a pleasantly good snack. A bowl full of washed kale (which is full of vitamins and minerals, by the way), enough cold pressed olive oil to coat the leaves, sea salt and a bit of cayenne all mixed together can be laid out on the sheets of your dehydrator and dried at the living foods setting (around 105) to make an incredible raw kale chip.
The kale plants also very cold hardy and grow with relative ease in the garden. Once November hit our region, I covered my kale plants with horticultural plastic. Winter winds shredded my two year old horticultural plastic and December found my lovely kale naked and exposed. Amazingly, they did just fine with a thick mulch of straw on their feet for the rest of winter. They would get frozen but once the sun warmed them, their turgidity returned.
This spring , my kale was the first plant out of the starting gate and we were able to harvest leaves even while it sent up its seed stalk, flowered and set seed. Pests rarely ultimately destroy kale. When things are in balance, you may not even notice bad bugs on your plants, except maybe some aphids. We had once year when Brassica moths ate every single leaf on my plants but, after they moved on with the season, the kale plants bounced right back with new growth. These plants are amazing!
What Kind of Kale Seed to Save?
All the kales create seed in the same way, so you can save seed easily from any of them. If you have two or more varieties planted and they flower at the same time, be prepared for a little cross breeding. However, that certainly never hurt anyone – you might become famous for your original seed!
Last fall, I planted Vates and Red Russian kale, from which we harvested leaves throughout the fall and into the winter. For various kale varieties, feel free to check out our affiliates below:
Being a member of the Brassica family (think broccoli, cabbage, etc.), kale is very much obliged to go to and set seed for you, especially once the spring weather warms to summer.
The Seed Stalks
Each plant will send up stalks that can get quite tall – our tallest this year measured somewhere between a three and a five year old child. The stalks are a bit brittle and in high wind will detach from the mother plant, which sadly can happen before the seed has had time to mature. If you’ve got stalks breaking off or would simply like to cover your bets, go ahead and tie up the stalks around a stake of bamboo for support.
The Seed Pods
Once the green seed pods (which look like small, skinny green beans) have fattened up and started to dry out, you know you need to move fast to get the seed preserved. If you wait, the seed will drop anywhere it pleases to reseed itself in your yard – sometimes your neighbor’s yard if the birds get involved.
The Seed Saving Process
- Once the seed pods are ripe and beginning to dry out, cut the stalks at the bottom of the plant.
- Then, invert them into a large paper bag and wait for them to dry the rest of the way.
- Hang the paper bags (paper is best because it breathes) some place where they won’t get too hot and won’t be exposed to dust or wind.
- If you’re in a place prone to summer humidity, just do a few stalks per bag so that you don’t end up with mold.
- Once you feel like the pods have finished drying, flail (or bang) the stalks against the side of the bag to dislodge the seeds.
- Toss the dried stalks into your compost or see if your goats will eat them. (Be prudent with raw Brassicas fed to your ruminants as too much can cause bloat – the dried stalks should be fine.)
- Start winnowing out the chaff by dumping the contents of your bag either through a screen or onto a sheet.
Kale seeds are small, dark and round. They are usually easy to distinguish in the midst of all the dried out seed casings and aphid corpses that will also be in residence at the bottom of the brown paper bag.
More on Winnowing your Kale Seed
To “winnow” is to clean away all the chaff (seed casings and gunk) from your seed.
To filter the seeds from the chaff you can use window screening, a mesh strainer, a colander or a very loose weave cheese cloth. Really anything that will allow the small seed to fall through, but trap the larger particles of “stuff” will work just fine.
You can also just dump them onto a white sheet and call seed cleaning a Family Night activity!
To see the process of this (although it’s with leek seeds), click here.
A Special Note on Aphids
Aphids can be a nuisance on Brassicas but they don’t usually harm the seed. Aphids can easily be controlled with a strong jet of water from your hose; a few hours away from their food source and they die. Even if you harvest your seed stocks with a few aphids, they wont live long enough to do any damage to the seed – nor could they even with more time, as far as I know.
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How to Store Kale Seed
How much kale seed do you get? That entirely depends on how many seed stocks your plant sends up and how much seed you take time to save. We’ve saved hundreds of seed from one plant. Needless to say, you will probably have enough for most backyard gardening purposes.
You will have copious amounts of seed so make sure you have paper envelopes and/or glass jars handy to store and label the seed. Ideally, you would be taking generous seed samples from multiple of the best plants you have in order to preserve beautiful biodiversity. If you’re like me, you’ll just thank your lucky stars that you remembered to save out even one or two plants for seeds as you ravenously consumed every kale leaf in sight the season before.
Random Kale Seed Notes
Like I said, kale will cross pollinate with other brassicas and, therefore, with itself. My Vates flowered later than my Red Russian so I’m hoping I didn’t cross too badly, if at all.
Seed saving is something I’m still learning to do even after several years of practice and it’s one more thing to factor into the planning of the garden. Much like a plant, sometimes I thrive and sometimes my brain wilts.
As far as the varieties go, of the two, I liked the Vates the best: great flavor, tidy leaves, not too much curling/ruffling, hardy and pretty.
The Red Russian was also very hardy and had lovely red undertones but it wasn’t quite as good in salads because it’s a little on the tough side when raw. I’m saving the seed, though, because in stir fries and soups it was yummy. The Scotch is a great one, too, and so is the Dinosaur kale. Basically, I haven’t met a kale I didn’t like.
What Seed Are You Saving?
So what seed are you saving this year? If the thought of doing any seed saving is new to you, don’t worry, that’s why God invented next year.
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