Saving seeds

This summer I’m going to make sure I collect seed from all the vegetables I grow so I can do it all again next year. I’ve just got to remember to save them from the vegetables I eat in their entirety, like tomatoes and beans. I’ve always collected seed from marigolds, sunflowers, parsley and basil for subsequent seasons (the originals came from my dad’s garden). These plants also self-seed, along with lettuce and “compost tomatoes” which pop up all over my garden (including where I don’t want them).

from this, sunflower head to this, sunflower seeds to this, sunflower seedling

The seeds I recently bought from The Diggers Club and planted this spring are heirloom varieties.
mini capsicum grown from a hybrid seed, behind chives

They are true to type from one planting to the next. [1]

Many other seeds and shop bought vegetables are produced from hybrids. Hybrids are cross-bred from two plants which were lower yielding and the progeny is higher yielding [1]. Earlier in the year Michael collected and planted seed from a bought capsicum (sweet pepper). A number of plants grew, but they never got very big and the fruit they produced were very small. I left them on the plants because the red against the rest of the garden’s green looked very pretty.

sweet pea flower I first planted sweet peas in winter 2006 and collected the seed for this past winter. I forgot that the original seeds were from a chain store packet and probably hybrids. The progeny were slow to get going. They did eventually shoot up, but only had purple flowers. The flowers were pretty, but I missed the combination of colours from the year before. Towards the end some pinks and reds appeared and I’ve decided these hybrid seeds weren’t a total disaster, so I’ve collected seed for next winter. Anthony Leddin, in the Christmas Diggers Club catalogue, said yield decreases in subsequent years [1], so they might only get worse. I’ll see what happens.

I’ve recently been trying to grow comfrey. Comfrey is a good addition to compost because the leaves are high in calcium, phosphorus and potassium [2]. Its deep roots accumulate potassium [3] and it spreads rampantly from these roots [4]. Cutting it back for compost helps curb its spread.

The seed packet said the germination rate is 50% so I wasn’t hopeful of success and they haven’t grown yet. After more research I found out that

Russian comfrey will not grow from seed as the plants are sterile. However, propagation is simple enough. Chop off a plant horizontally with a spade and plant all the offsets and roots. Once established, it can be a problem to get rid of as all root cuttings left in the soil will grow. [4]

I’ll have to keep searching for those root cuttings. The packet of the seeds I got from The Diggers Club said they are Symphytum x uplandicum ie. Russian comfrey. So I don’t know what’s going on.



  1. Leddin, Anthony (2007) “Explaining GMOs, heirlooms and hybrids” The Diggers Club catalogue, Christmas, p.12-13.
  2. Taylor, David & Yvonne (1993) The Compost Book. Chatswood, NSW: Reed.
  3. The Organic Gardener (2006) Growing & using garden Comfrey: the spice of garden compost.
  4. The Lowdown Zambia (2005) Gardening Galore.

7 thoughts on “Saving seeds

  1. I also bought some Comfrey from diggers about two months back. For exactly the same reason, to add to compost and for the cackleberries (chickens). I put five seeds in a small plastic container and sat in the fridge covered for three weeks (nothing sprouted), then took them out, another three weeks later two sprouted. Then we had some extreme temperatures (Brisbane 39 degree days) and that fried them. Still have some seed left over so will try again shortly.
    Please keep up the good work on your blog I am learning lots from you.

  2. Thank you for your kind words :)

    I was confused when I read on the comfrey seed packet to put them in the fridge, so I didn’t. Did you plant them in a pot and then put that in the fridge or did you just put the seeds in the fridge and what did you cover them with?

    I’ll try again and put them in the fridge this time. We’ve been having high temperatures too – some of my tomatoes didn’t make it – so I’ll keep them in the shade if they sprout.

  3. All I did, and it may not be the best method was to grab a clear round plastic container with a lid. I filled half way with regular potting mix and then placed the seeds in with a very light sprinkle of potting mix over the top. From there I put them just above the vege crisper and waited. Mind you I as stated I did not see anything after 3 weeks, only watered twice in that time.
    I still have some seeds and are going to give it another shot but I think I may wait until winter this time.
    I am having tremendous trouble with my goji seeds, have one that got to about 60cm high, was very happy. Then I put some gypsum on it and all the leaves got burnt, must have increased the alkalinity of the soil a bit too much, but not sure. It is coming back very slowly. Have never heard of gypsum hurting a plant though so skeptical about it, may have just been the extreme weather.
    Our tomato plants are now 1 meter tall but we are yet to get a tomato due to the grubs getting them before we do. I dont want to use chemical sprays though.. Not sure what to do.
    I am very new to gardening and just finding my feet. A lot of trial and error. The only thing I have successfully grown so far are carrots, kale and tomatoes, the beans are getting eaten by grasshoppers (do you know any tricks for them we almost have a plague).

  4. I might wait a bit to try my comfrey seeds in the fridge, my summer vegies have taken up all the space I have.

    I didn’t know what goji was, so I can’t help you with that.

    With tomatoes I’ve always known them to have a few bugs when they’re home grown, sometimes you can just cut out the eaten bit and the rest will be fine. I’ve been having a few troubles with catepillars (which i guess are grubs) and I’ve just put Dipel on my plants and hopefully that will get rid of them. Dipel is the brand name of Bt, a bacteria naturally found in soil which kills catepillars and nothing else. It breaks down in sunshine within a day and is used in organic farming. I wrote about it here. Its expensive (and made by Yates/Monsanto) and sometimes you have to reapply it again in a couple of days to get all the catepillars. The packet has warnings saying wash hands after use, etc, but it also says it doesn’t harm fish, birds, warm blooded animals, so its a good option. Derris Dust (powdered root of Derris eliptica plant) kills catepillars, but it also kills earthworms, so don’t use that.

    I never have much luck with carrots, I think i don’t fertilise them enough, they’re always so small.

    I don’t know what to do about grasshoppers, I’ve never had that problem. I planted my vegies kind of late and yesterday I ate my first bean. It wasn’t very big, but I was impatient, and it was tasty – i’m looking forward to the rest.

    I hope all these bugs don’t put you off. There are natural ways to deal with them. Marigolds planted in amoungst your vegies are meant to keep away many bugs. And soak wormwood leaves in water and spray on leafy vegies.

  5. Growing from seed has given me a buzz for the last 30 years. In fact propogation still gives me such a feeling of satisfaction. I cannot resist taking cuttings, especially when cutting or pruning something back. Fortunately I can always find a home for the results!

  6. I also got the Digger’s Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum), though my packet said germination was 81%. I just put the seed packet in the fridge for a month – or more, until I was ready to plant them, then planted the lot. I had about 20% actually germinate, but then (as was other’s experience) a heat wave killed all but one seedling, which I’m still trying to keep alive!
    I was just doing some research, and found that comfrey sprouts best from root cuttings or plant divisions; so if anyone knows where I can source a comfrey plant in Perth, please let me know! =)

  7. Hi Jillian,

    After my unsuccess with comfrey seeds I bought a comfrey plant from my local organic shop Absolutely Organics. Its on North Bch Rd, Gwelup next to the Caltex on the cnr of Karrinyup Rd. I’m not sure if they always have comfrey, but if its near you, ring them on 92427711. if you do go there, check when they’re open coz they’re closed most arvos. At first i had probs with my comfrey plant cos it wasn’t getting enough sun, but now it does and it’s growing nicely. In the past it put up shoots from runners. But since it moved to its new sunny spot it hasn’t yet. the first time it does my friends with chooks (chooks love comfrey) are getting a plant.

    I have a few problems with some Diggers seeds, but I’m still a member coz i like their catalogue and the free seeds, some of which grow well, others which don’t. I have great success with their tomatoes – i love their tommy toes. And I planted three other types of free tomatoes this year, so I’m giving away seedlings to everyone i meet :)

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