Harvesting Lettuce Seed

Well, I finally got around to harvesting the lettuce seed from the Romaine lettuce blooms I had cut and left to dry. For anyone wanting to attempt to save seeds from your lettuce, as I have mentioned in my previous post about saving seeds, you must let the plants bolt. The lettuce blooms will eventually die and turn to a white fuzz much like a dandelion.

It can then be cut and left to dry out or mulched back into the ground as some gardeners do, allowing it to self-sow.  I found harvesting the seeds to be quite easy, but very messy as the white fluff goes everywhere. All I had to do was run my fingers through the dried out blooms and the seeds dropped, but so did the fluff. And, I found it difficult to separate the fluff from the seed. I even tried an old mesh strainer which actually helped cut down on the fuzzy stuff, but some of it still got through into the container. Lettuce seed 2

I am storing the seed in paper packets in a storage container kept in a cool dark space in the back hall.  Anyhow, I now have a good supply of lettuce seed, which if I need next season, I can use. I tossed the leftover stems back out into the garden so it will self-sow. I am looking forward to seeing how many lettuce plants appear in fall, and I have plenty of seed for future planting and for sharing.

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Gone to Seed

As I mentioned in another post, I’m on a mission to have a truly self-sustainable garden. This involves saving as many seeds from this year’s growing season as possible.  In the past, I’ve only saved what I consider the easier seed such as cucumber, squash, pepper and tomato. I’m also incorporating more perennials like radicchio (Italian chicory), oregano, rosemary, thyme, and asparagus and allowing self-sowing crops such as Chinese cabbage, kale, arugula, spinach, lettuce, basil, dill, parsley, to name a few, to bolt or as they say, go to seed. With this in mind, I’ve had to choose specific spaces in the garden that will be devoted to these crops. I will admit that I am somewhat nervous as I’ve always practiced crop rotation. So, I am not sure how this will all play out. I know I can still rotate these self-sowing crops if need be. But, the reasons for doing all this is to save seed for future planting and share with other gardeners, as well as minimize my cost and effort. I will say it’s been a true learning experience. One thing I’ve had to overcome is the rather scraggy, homily appearance these plants take on when they bolt. While I don’t practice row planting in the traditional sense, say like colonial Williamsburg style,  I do companion plant heavily. I strive for practical combinations for a pleasing, natural, symbiotic space. These bolting plants do distract from the visual appeal I strive for. However, on the positive side, their blooms attract plenty of pollinators, so there’s a trade-off that is certainly worth it.

If you’ve ever seen romaine lettuce or kale bolt, it’s not attractive. Lettuce grow into tall  stalks with spindly off-shoots that produce little yellow flowers. When these flowers start to die, they produce a white fuzz similar to a dandelion. That is when I chop the flowered tops and set in a paper bag to dry out.  Once dried out, I will retrieve the tiny lettuce seeds, hoping most will have dropped to the bottom of the sack.

Kale, arugula, and Chinese cabbage are a little easier (see first set of photos above). These plants grow long seed pods on their wiry stocks along with petite, fragrant flowers. Once the seed pods grow long and flowers and plant start dying, I chop the stalks down and place in a spot to dry out. I have completely harvested all of the arugula and Chinese cabbage this way. The dried pods pop open with the slightest pinch of the fingers. It is messy. Or it might be, I have not perfected my seed harvesting technique because now  Chinese cabbage and arugula have emerged in the cracks and edges of my patio. And, these awesome self-seeding leafy greens are popping up again in the same spot their mother plants lived.

There’s still a couple of kale plants growing seed pods and lettuce blooming out. So, I  await impatiently, checking the garden each day to see if I can yank them out to make space for neighboring veggies but also to remove what I deem an eye sore. I suspect any lettuce seed that drops may not sprout until fall, only because lettuce truly is a cool weather plant, but we shall see. I am lucky because I reside in plant hardiness zone 8 which means I get to experience two growing seasons. So as soon as the spring planting is harvested, I replant many of the cool weather varieties in August and September to enjoy their bounty by November and December.  However, I actually practice year round gardening with the use of row covers. So, it will be interesting to see how these self-sown offspring will fare as the summertime heat approaches. I’m hoping by autumn to exert less energy and enjoy a more self-sustaining garden experience. I will definitely follow-up with a post covering the results of this little experiment.