That's often a bunch of .. well, you know! But it sounds true of seed-saving and herbs, at least as far as Nancy Wygant is concerned. Nancy is an assistant gardener at Bartram's, where she's collected hundreds, thousands, of seeds over the years. Some of the most interesting are sold in the garden's visitor center, but she also has a basement full of many others. I visited her Bartram's stash recently for a story on seed-collecting and -saving that will be in the paper's Home & Design section, and on philly.com, this Friday.
It was fun to see the brown paper bags full of stems loaded down with seed heads from cilantro, lettuce, cannas, alliums, soybeans and others. Best to start with the easy ones - for example, herbs like cilantro and dill, Nancy says. They're uncomplicated. You just need to make sure you let them bolt and get really dry before gathering, and all you do is shake them upside down into a bag. Easy peasy, as they say.
Talking with Nancy, and with the three folks who started the Philadelphia Seed Exchange - Joel Fath, Mira Adornetto and Aimee Hill - got me re-interested in collecting my own seeds. I don't have a setup for starting seeds indoors this winter, but someday ... Next year, for sure, I'll be gathering seeds for zinnias, marigolds, cilantro, dill and the many lettuces I plan to plant. Those you can just toss into the ground in early spring.
This saves a lot of money - if you're like me, at least. I spend a small fortune on seeds and seedlings every spring. Yes, it's easier, but it adds up. One year my seed bill at the flower show was almost $100! How did I do that and still "need" to buy seedlings in the spring? One of the mysteries of the garden, I guess.
Here are two of Nancy's best information sources: Suzanne Ashworth's "Seed to Seed" and Carol Deppe's "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties." I would add "The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds" by Cheryl Moore-Gough and her late husband, Robert Gough, although this one is heavy on the science and may scare you away.