Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Patiently seedy

Many of my fellow bloggers inspire me to try new things, or at least to think again about the approach I'm taking in my garden. Michelle at From Seed to Table often inspires me to try growing all sorts of things from seed in my food garden. While she's a wonderful food gardener her influence has extended to my flower garden, and right now I'm trying to grow zinnias from seed I have saved from last summer's plantings.

Here's one of the two patches from last year, in the colours I want to plant again this year: whites, yellows and oranges. The other patch had a fair bit of pink and red in it, and they're just not the flower colours I want or need here. This plant is Zinnia angustifolia, which is a lowish-growing (to 30cm/1 foot tall), widish spreading (70cm/2 feet) zinnia. There's another type of zinnia that's commonly grown here, but it's a much taller growing plant (75cm tall at least) and its colours border on lurid, especially the pinks.

Once the zinnias faded in autumn after a long flower show that started in early summer, I let them fade a bit more then cut off all the orange flowers and put them in one brown paper bag, and all the white flowers went into another brown paper bag. Then they spent a quiet winter hanging around in my garden shed.

A few weeks ago, the weather looked like it was warming up for spring and so I took down the bags to check out the contents. Having never before collected many flower seeds, and no zinnias at all, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it looked like there were hundreds of seeds there.

The dried flower heads themselves were noisy to handle, crinkly-dry as can be.

And for that matter, they were as brittle as can be, too. Just the lightest crumble in my fingers and they fell apart.

The result was about 50:50 chaff and seeds, and not knowing any better way to clear the chaff, I quietly and patiently picked it out with my fingers. Thank goodness for interesting radio shows (in this case 'The Music Show', Radio National, Saturday mornings 10-12, with Andrew Ford) – they make drudgery much easier to get through.

The zinnia seeds are distinctly darker than the chaff. I was hoping for plump seeds, but they're a bit scrawny, but not knowing what to expect all I could do was forge on regardless. For all I know they could be either perfectly normal or shockingly malnourished. Only time will tell.

Seed-raising HQ: my super-cheap mini greenhouses, each less than 10 bucks at Bunnings. The little sliders in the lids let you adjust the air flow.

I filled several old seedling punnets with seed-raising mix and, for insurance, added two seeds per cell. I then lightly sprinkled over just enough seed-raising mix to barely cover them, then watered them in well with a spray mist. Marker tabs in so I know which colour is which, greenhouse lids on, off to a brightly lit spot out of all direct sunshine. Waiting... waiting...

Babies! The first came up after about 10 days, and for a while I was a panicky parent, with only about a quarter of the seeds coming up. "So they were scrawny" I first thought, with a pang of guilt. But the weather here these last two weeks has been horribly cold for spring, and just these last couple of days things have warmed up a bit. And more seeds are coming up all the time. The germination rate is up to about two-thirds of the number of seeds sown, which will provide me with more plants than I need. Not guilty, your honour!

As for what I need, I'd like lots of these white ones, please.

And plenty of these oranges and yellows, too.

But none of these pink ones, though. And it's not just a boy thing, either. My wife Pam isn't a hot pink girl, either. She loves all sorts of greens, and colours in earthy tones, plus apricots, blues, yellows, lavenders, wine-reds and, if it has to be pink it's down the dusky end of the spectrum.

Now the next phase of the operation is of course raising the babies to become a gaggle of healthy youngsters over the next few weeks, then waiting for signs of colour in their flower buds to see how true they're coming up from seed. I'll report in sometime in December I suspect.

However, the best part about this little project for me is that it's the very opposite experience of that modern ailment, instant gratification. This has been a long, slow process which has stretched out, in its own leisurely way, for many months, and it has several weeks more to go before the first flowers appear. In an important little way this 'zinnias from saved seed' project has taught me (well, maybe just reminded me) that growing anything from seed is patience yielding its own very special rewards. I want to do more of this.


Lanie said...

I am looking forward to following the next month or so. Seed saving has so much appeal! I love it on so many levels. I've had varying success with seed raising (high with eggplant, tomatoes and direct sowing - ie the easy ones) not so great with lettuce, capsicum. They seem to go well up to the point of tiny little seedlings and then they sometimes don't turn into the bushy healthy little plants I had hoped. From Seed to Table is a great link too. Cheers.

Shailaja said...

Hi Jamie,

Next time you can use the winnowing technique to separate the seeds from the chaff. Old-fashioned, but effective! Or if they are small, smooth and round seeds you can just allow them to roll off a slightly inclined smooth surface (like a dinner plate held at an angle). I do this all the time with store-bought mustard seeds which are more grit than seeds.

Building Materials Supplies said...

Patiently seedy

Thanks for sharing

Michelle said...

Jamie, it gave me a little thrill to read the nice things you said about me and my little blog :) Thank you!

Starting from seed and saving seeds is addictive and oh so satisfying. Pretty soon you will find youself eyeing plants that are going to seed where ever you go... My husband calls me a seed poacher.

I have to agree with you about the pink zinnias, they are lurid (wonderful word).

BTW, I saw ages ago that you tried olive leaf arugula, did you like it?

Jamie said...

Michelle: yep, tried the olive leaf arugula and it was more peppery than my basic common rocket. But that was back in autumn, and so this time I'm planning on trying it in spring (but your question has reminded to me to do so - so thanks). I'll sow some seeds this weekend, so it won't be long before I know how it goes. Last time I grew it in garden soil, but next time I think I'll try it in potting mix.