With the garden reaching it's peak now, harvesting is required on a daily basis and there is so much to be done in the preserving kitchen, but don't forget to keep one eye towards next season.
Now is the time to take stock of your plants and make some assessments about strength, vigour and production. Choose your best plants to save seed from for next year.
Only one or two of your best plants are needed but it is good to earmark them so you know what will be ruthlessly pulled out to make way for new planting.
That's right. Don't stop planting, now is the time for sowing more than ever getting seedlings ready for the over-wintering period. Soon it will be cool enough to start some more leafy lettuce types that would have struggled in the height of the summer.
Some plants, like this Italian lettuce, add such charm as they go to seed and provide gorgeous background colours, but some can become quite wild. Simply gather a floppy over-blousey bunch and tie with some string and secure to a stake if need be, allowing them to reach full maturity.
The pods holding the seed will get fatter and fatter and then gradually start drying off and the plant starts to die as it knows it has done it's job to recreate itself. Try to harvest pods when dry but before they are so brittle that they break and pop bursting seed at the merest touch.
I find the easiest way is to harvest the heads or pods and place them upside down in a brown paper bag. Keep them well ventilated and as they complete the drying process the seeds burst forth into the bottom of the packets so you can easily discard the detritus matter.
to label the packet straight away.
You think you'll remember but you won't!
Also be prepared to find seed may be a little changed as it may be cross pollinated with other close varieties. Coloured chard is particularly true of this. I have deliberately planted my colours in like bunches at extreme corners of the yard in an effort to reduce cross pollination.
Last year Craig and I bought a lot of heirloom tomato seedlings from different home growers and were very disappointed to find that their varieties had been cross pollinated. We were trying to assess varieties for future growing and their different characteristics but the sample were muddied. If you are wanting a particularly variety for bottling or sauce then it is probably better to get your seedlings from a commercial grower. If you wish to save seed in turn from those plants, they also need to be grown in segregation to avoid the seed being crossed.
Also be aware that some seed that is bought from a commercial company may be genetically modified and sterile, preventing you from saving and re-sowing. This is another reason that it is vital to support heirloom and heritage seed companies and to keep saving viable seed yourselves. If we lose the ability to save seed, we lose the control over what we can plant, grow and eat.
You can find my seed packet tutorial here
Saving seed is a good habit to get into. It saves you lots of money and it is a great way to share varieties among your gardening friends.
As always these seeds make wonderful gifts too and now is a great time to get them under way for Christmas presents next year because the seeds you harvest now are likely to be suitable varieties for sowing next summer and therefore make great timely gifts.