It’s peak harvest time in the garden now and many of us are focused on eating and preserving as much as we can. But it’s also time to think about next year’s garden, so leaving a few fruits and vegetables to fully mature so that you can harvest the seeds can be part of the plan, too. As I’ve told you before, I’ve been successful saving seeds from the heirloom beans my family grows, but I’m trying to expand those skills.
With that in mind, I headed over to Figaro’s Garden on Sunday to attend their Intro to Seed Saving workshop. The owners are committed to becoming a centre for our neighbourhood’s organic gardening needs and they’ve been providing regular workshops to share skills and build community. They’ve also got a strong connection with Environmental Youth Alliance, which works with young people to build skills and connections with the natural world. One of the owners is the Executive Director of EYA and EYA’s Volunteer Co-ordinator, Katrina Sterba, is also Figaro’s Event Co-ordinator. This crossover has meant that there is a strong grassroots ethos at the garden centre, along with a deep knowledge base for teaching and community outreach.
Sterba led the workshop, allowing some folks from around the neighbourhood to benefit from her expertise. We all had various levels of experience and success with seed-saving, from complete novice to regular experimenter. The workshop led us through a primer on which seeds are the most viable for seed-saving – open pollinated, self-fertile plants are easiest for beginners, while hybrids and some heirloom seeds won’t necessarily grow to resemble the plants they came from. Each of us got a pamphlet with a run down of the concepts she covered and a resource guide for further exploration.
Next, we had a demonstration of the two most common methods of seed-saving: dry and wet. Katrina gave us hands on experience of threshing and winnowing some spring wheat that had been grown right here in East Van. Then, she demonstrated the wet method with one of the most luscious-looking Green Zebra tomatoes I’ve seen.
We also learned from each other. I now have a plan in mind for starting tomato seeds indoors next winter – no small feat in a two-bedroom apartment. There was also a spirited discussion of how to rescue sunflower seeds from hungry birds, or whether we even should.
If you’re in Vancouver, I recommend stopping by Figaro’s Garden for a look at their demonstration gardens or a chat with their staff about your gardening needs. I’ve gotten a number of plants from them over the years, from a dogwood bush for my parents’ (late, lamented) farm to a flat full of annuals for my flower baskets. I’m also going to keep an eye out for more workshops, like the Mason Bee primer they’ll be hosting on September 27th – I think I might become a regular student. In the meantime, I’ve already expanded my seed-saving to the sage plant that flowered abundantly this summer and the peas I grew from seed I got at a seed swap this spring. I’m also keeping an eye on the nasturtiums I picked up from the Kensington-Cedar Cottage Seed Sharing Library so that I can return some to them and keep some for next year’s garden.
Maybe someday, if I keep up the learning, I’ll be able to stop calling myself a beginning gardener.