Hii Fellow Wrigglers!
Following last week's post, we are trying to keep up the momentum in helping you grow your urban garden in a sustainable way. And what's more sustainable than growing your own plant from the seeds that you harvested; surely that's borderline self-sustaining haha!
This week, we will walk you through our harvesting approach in order to obtain high-quality seeds that are destined to sprout (okay, maybe 80% rate of sprouting :D!). In this article we would assume that you have successfully done the following:
1) Look out for flower buds
Our harvesting process begins once the flower starts to bud. What is a bud? It's a small protuberance on the stem of the plant that would, later on, develop into a flower; Basically, an undeveloped flower.
2) Isolate flower buds before they bloom (for perfect flowers only)
For us, we need to keep the seed genetics pure so that we can share high-quality seeds from a specific specie with you. As we grow multiple chilli varieties simultaneously, we need to isolate the flower bud from the environment before it blooms to encourage self-pollination.
This is necessary because plants biologically prefer cross-pollination. Evolution seems to favour genetic variability which can be better achieved by accessing a larger gene pool via cross-pollination.
The avoidance of self-fertilisation by plants is explained quite clearly in this article: Self-Incompatibility - How Plants Avoid Inbreeding. Beware, the article gets a little geeky.
Therefore, to ensure our plants look, taste and feel a certain way, isolation of our flower bud is achieved by covering the bud with a fine non-woven biodegradable plant bag before it blooms:
Note that this approach would only work with perfect flowers.
Plants can be broken down into the following categories:
Perfect Flowers (Flowers contain both male and female sex organs)
Imperfect Flowers (Flowers contain only either male or female sex organs)
Monoecious Plants (Imperfect flowers are present on the same plants)
Dioecious Plants (Imperfect flowers are present on different plants)
If the plants have imperfect flowers (separate male and female sex organs), covering the flower bud would completely prevent the pollination process and fruiting from occurring. This is highly undesirable for urban gardeners.
For plants that have imperfect flowers (e.g. cucumbers), manual hand-pollination between male and female flowers on the same plant or plant type may be required to ensure the purity of the seed genetics produced by the flower. This is because plants with imperfect flowers have several mechanisms to promote cross-pollination:
Firstly, if the plant is monoecious, the male and female flowers tend to bloom at differing time periods. This makes it difficult for them to self-pollinate.
Secondly, the plant might be dioecious (individual plant only produce flowers of one sexual orientation).
Be sure to have a quick google on what category your plant is in when embarking on your own harvesting journey.
However, as most of the plants in Singapore are monoecious, we would focus on monoecious plants in this article!
3) Remove the biodegradable bag and mark the fruit
After pollination, the flowers would normally wilt and fall off. If the flower bud isolation was executed perfectly, the stigma would swell and evolve to form a fruit which would contain seeds of our desired genetics.
Pro tip: Do remember to mark the stem of the fruit that was engineered to produce our specific desired genetics because they look exactly the same as any other fruit on that plant! This may sound silly but trust us, we have personally lost track of our "bagged" fruit immediately upon unbagging (especially on heavily fruiting chilli plants!).
If this happens to you, don't worry! The next bud will be ready for bagging again in no time. Enjoy the process and the reward will come.
4) Wait for the fruit to ripen and harvest it
Upon unbagging and marking the fruit, we now have to wait several weeks for the fruit to ripen. Do not immediately harvest it as the seeds would not be viable until the fruit has fully ripened.
For this stage of the harvesting process, we would advise you to do some research on what the fruit would look like when they are fully ripened to ensure that we don't harvest the seeds prematurely. Premature harvesting may lead to us collecting non-viable seeds.
5) Test the seeds and store the rest
Lastly, once the fruit has ripened. We can proceed to harvest the fruit. The seeds can be obtained by cutting open the fruit.
We would recommend testing 3 - 5 of the seeds from the harvest to ensure viability. This would prevent us from attempting to sprout non-viable seeds in the future as it would waste unnecessary effort and is painfully disappointing when they do not sprout.
For us personally, it would be extremely un-wriggley to provide our fellow wrigglers with seeds that don't sprout ><! Remember, "Providing access to high-quality seeds" was one of our key mission hehe.
Our preferred method of testing is using the wet paper towel method. Simply follow the following steps:
Moisten a layer of paper towel
Place the moist paper towel in a ziplock bag
Label the ziplock bag
Sprinkle the seeds on the paper towel (in the ziplock bag)
seal the ziplock bag and monitor for 2 weeks
If less than 80% of the seeds sprouted, we would deem them non-viable. But not to worry, from our experience, fresh seeds are normally super viable. Prepare to be amazed at the germination rates you would be getting!
Next step would be to store the seeds. Now this would require a whole different process and as it stands, the article is already pretty long.
So, we'll save that conversation for the upcoming few weeks and keep today's discussion focussed on the harvesting of seeds.
If you have another way of harvesting seeds, do share and let us know! As always, we love learning from the Wriggley community!
Stay Wriggley everyone!