Humans have a long history with seed collection – our agricultural systems are based on growing and collecting seeds. Seed collection and cleaning can be a meditative process, making us calm, happy, and relaxed.
In late July we held a native seed scouting workshop hosted by seed collection expert Stefan Weber from Carolinian Canada Coalition. Stefan shared his knowledge with 40+ participants who will use these new skills to collect native wildflower seed and expand or create new pollinator habitat across Hamilton. We’ve summarized all the main tips and tricks below!
Plants are unique and complex. Different species have different seed collection times, storage requirements, and planting needs. You will need to research the species you are interested in beforehand – when are the seeds ripe, how will you need to store them, do they require stratification or scarification, etc.? Looking up as much information ahead of time will help to avoid unpleasant surprises and potential disappointments like under ripe, moldy seeds!
Ethical Seed Collection
When you engage in seed collection to grow native plants you are a steward of the land. You are responsible for conducting yourself and your seed collection pursuits in an ethical, ecologically-friendly way.
1. Landowner Permission
Prior to collection, you need to get explicit permission from the landowner to collect seed. Seed collection is typically prohibited in national and provincial parks along with non-profit or private natural areas. Public access to natural spaces does not mean we can take from these areas.
2. Only Collect 10% of Available Seed
Best practice is to collect only 10% of available seed from a wild population. By removing only a small random portion of the seeds and leaving the rest you are helping to preserve the genetic diversity of the population, allowing the plants to replace themselves, and ensuring the population is healthy enough to harvest from the following year. And be mindful – if you notice seed has already been collected from that site, find another population to harvest that year.
* Home gardens are very different from wild populations. You can harvest as little or as much as you like from your personal planted population.
If you’re planning to collect from your own garden, don’t deadhead! It will promote more flowers throughout the growing season but it cuts off the seed head and you’ll have no seeds to collect.
Seed collection does not need to be an expensive venture. You can find most, if not all, of the equipment listed below in your home. Here are the basics for seed collection:
Collection, Cleaning & Storage
You’ve done your research, have all your equipment, and are standing in front of your chosen plant. Before you jump into the rhythmic process of harvesting seed heads, conduct a quick ‘cut test’ to determine if the seeds are ready to collect. Ripe wildflower and grass seeds will be hard, dry, firm, and white or straw-coloured like nuts. If it does not look like this, it is not ready to be collected. Crumbly and dark? No good. Gooey or sappy? Under ripe!
If the seed heads are damp or wet they can be left in the paper or fabric collection bag to dry, or spread out on a flat surface if they are densely packed. Once they’re dry you’re ready to clean.
Seed cleaning means that you are removing all of the debris from the seed. You can start by shaking the bag around to dislodge the seeds from the seed heads, or pouring them out into a tub and massaging them with your hands. Make sure you know what your seed looks like and how big it is, you don’t want to discard them by accident! Once the seeds are separated from the seed heads you can run everything through several decreasingly-sized sieves – you keep what falls through the sieve and discard anything that stays on top. When you think you can’t remove any more debris gently blow across the seeds to remove the smallest bits.
Store your cleaned seeds in a paper envelope or plastic/glass container with the species, date, and collection location clearly marked (you will thank yourself later!). Each species needs its own pre-treatment method prior to being sown - i.e. stratification and scarification. In nature these are things like seasonal changes and digestion. Google is your best resource to determine what species needs what treatment! You many need to leave your seeds in the fridge for a few weeks or months for them to be able to germinate. Or you might find yourself using sandpaper to wear down the outer protective layer.
Enjoy exploring the wonderful world of native plants and seed collection!
by Rogina Jabel
Bee City is a North American movement that began in Canada in 2015 and was inspired by a similar program in the United States called Bee City USA. The focus of the program is to mobilize cities, towns, and First Nations communities to develop initiatives that protect pollinators.
In February 2021, Hamilton joined the ranks of Toronto, Mississauga, Montreal, Calgary, and many more as the 39th city in Canada to be designated as a Bee City.
But why make such a big deal about bees and other pollinators?
It’s simple. Without them, our food supply would be seriously jeopardized and healthy ecosystems that clean the air would slowly collapse. Pollinators are small animals and insects like bees and birds that travel from one plant to another carrying pollen to the female part of the flower (stigma), which kicks start the pollination process enabling flowering plants to reproduce. According to pollinator.org, this nearly invisible process gives us fruits, vegetables, nuts, prevents soil erosion, and increases carbon sequestration.
This vital process requires attention and support. Pollinators need help! This is where programs like Bee City come in to ensure our pollinator friends are protected and properly sustained.
So, how did Hamilton become a Bee City? This was made possible by pollinator protection initiatives like The Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project, which is a collaborative effort between the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and Environment Hamilton. The Pollinator Paradise project assisted the City of Hamilton in applying for the Bee City Status, and continues to work with the City to meet Bee City’s deliverables. Additionally, the project intends to connect pollinator corridors across the city by creating pollinator habitats in both private and public spaces. This project couldn’t have come at a better time, especially now where several native bee populations are in decline and extinction risks by region and by species have been described by experts as “catastrophic” (Brown, 2019).
If this project sounds really exciting to you, you’re probably wondering how you can help! Well, you can start by planting native pollinating plants in your garden, and if you’ve already started you can apply for a free certification to acknowledge the awesome work you’re doing! Additionally, if you consider yourself a gardening master or know someone who is, you or your friend have the chance to win a Hamilton Monarch Award next year, which recognizes the efforts of several locals who have been long-time friends of pollinators through their garden, and have been practicing sustainable gardening.
With Barb McKean, 2020 Hamilton Monarch Awards Recipient.
During spring migration a couple of years ago, an unusual bird showed up in Barb McKean’s garden. A Brown Thrasher rustled about in the remains of last year’s leaves covering the flower beds, popping up to gulp down an early bug, then getting back to work foraging through the leaves some more. It stayed for three days. Barb's friend said the very same bird had dropped by her yard for a couple of days as well. And do you know why? Their yards were the only two naturalized gardens on their street. It goes to show: if you build it, they will come.
Barb, who is Head of Education at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) has compiled an inventory list of her west mountain property that encompasses over 170 species and varieties of plants.
How long has this habitat-creating maverick been at it?
Guest post by Angelique Mori. Published in NANPS 2020 Fall edition of Blazing Star.
.As human-dominated landscapes relentlessly diminish ecosystems crucial for our own survival, it’s wise to consider the words of writer/ecologist Doug Tallamy, “Garden as if life depends on it.” Native plants support not only human life but the lives and reproductive capacity of countless animals. They are foundational to the inter-connected systems and associations with fauna that have evolved over millennia; remove pieces and the complex system risks collapse. When we plant native flora in our yards we not only restore habitat, but a whole world of wonder emerges.
Sara Stein’s Noah’s Garden (1993) serves as an inspiration to dedicated habitat gardening. Each individual who contributes to this effort promotes awareness, applying eco-conscious practices in their own life. This has a ripple effect in each community. Passers-by may feel inspired, seeing an urban native plant oasis lush with life. The spark created by your garden may lead to curiosity, learning, action and the sharing of knowledge.
Among the wild, unexpected delights of a native plant garden are the insects. People may scoff at the foolishness of providing nourishment for what they perceive to be pests. Yet these tiny protein packs invite the creatures that eat them! Frogs, salamanders, snakes, birds, bats and others relish the bountiful insect buffet! Consequently, it’s imperative to be pesticide free. Moreover, messy garden areas invite magical evenings dotted with the twinkling dance of fireflies. Visualize the extraordinary emergence of monarch butterflies, whose exclusive host plant is milkweed (Asclepias spp.), or the doily-like foliage created by nursery-constructing leaf cutter bees. Every spring, the redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) in my yard takes on a lacy effect as a result of their harvesting!
Do you want to learn more about how to design a native plant garden that can benefit local birds, butterflies and bees? Perhaps you are curious about how a rain garden works, and how creating one on your property can help manage rain fall? Join us for a free workshop, Saturday, March 20th 10 to 12 pm. Register at email@example.com
Currently, Hamilton's urban tree canopy is dismally low at only 21%, with a target of increasing to 30% by 2050- which we think extremely weak!! Healthy, enhanced tree canopy is critical for community well being and climate resilience (a no-brainer, nature-based solution). We have to do better. Happily, the City of Hamilton has a quick poll and more opportunity to comment on the draft Urban Forest Strategy on their Engage Hamilton website. Now is your chance to have your say, and let the City know you care about improving our urban tree canopy.
Also, there will be a virtual public meeting hosted by the city to explain the strategy and take questions on Tuesday Feb 9, 2021 from 6:30pm – 8pm, you can register at the Engage Hamilton webpage for the Urban Forest Strategy.
Finally, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists' Club recently held a webinar that helped break down the City's draft Urban forest strategy. Here is the link--very useful to help you understand some of the concerns we have, and some of the things we approve of.
- We’ve had many questions from our followers about maintaining a fall/winter pollinator garden. As one gardener put it, “What should I do to avoid my garden getting overrun with seeds that will then create more plants, and ultimately, I will have to do more weeding?” This gardener says she is conflicted between leaving the stems for insects to overwinter or cutting them back.
Charlie Briggs, gardener at Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), suggests the following:
"During late fall (like late November), once birds have had their harvest I remove any seed heads from my plants that I know to be aggressive seeders by snapping or using pruners This usually does not include plants that I know have seedlings that are easy to pull out if they do germinate, or ones whose seedlings I will share with other gardeners or use to fill holes in my own gardens."
Charlies says that at this time, he also removes as much height or weight as needed from plants "that will collapse to a point of untidiness or inconvenience--like the native Giant Sunflower next to my driveway. All 10 feet of it will become messy in the winter so I cut it's stalks back to about 3 or 4 feet knowing that it will support itself through the season and provide great habitat for overwintering insects while not disturbing my passage to the side of my house."
Charlie removes height using Pruners, Loppers, Saw, "whichever the task calls for."
Debbie Lindeman and Dennis Price; Hamilton Monarch Awards 2020 Recipients.
When Debbie moved into Dennis’ Hamilton Mountain home, Rymal road, there were already Carolinian tree species on this ⅓ of an acre-sized lot. First-time applicants of the Monarch Awards 2020, the couple have been planting gardens for nature since 2012. They are seated shoulder to shoulder for this zoom conversation.
“Which of you has the green thumbs?” I ask.
“My green thumbs are more with my veggie garden,” Dennis says, “but I just did a pollinator garden on the front lawn though.”
“Before meeting Dennis, I was very ‘plant-blind,’” Debbie turns to Dennis, “now I am getting to know more plants than he does,” she jokes.
“I’m beginning to forget names. I’m still working, so I don’t have enough time,” Dennis defends himself, “but I’ll pick it up again when I retire.”
Welcome to our 13-year old, guest-blogger, Catherine Coon. Catherine interviewed 13-year old, Maia Whitman about her experience, receiving a Caterpillar Award (a Hamilton Monarch Awards' "beginner-level" award of excellence, for gardens that nature loves, by gardeners who love nature).
First, a little bit about Catherine. In her own words she says:
"I love anime and cuddling with my cats while writing and reading. I'm passionate about the environment, and think that being involved in any way we can is important."
In reviewing Maia's application for the Monarch Awards, we can see the two have a lot in common. Maia, who applied on behave of her family, told us that she loves pollinators. She wrote about her garden's "many pollinatr-friendly features":
"For starters, our front lawn has been seeded with clover and it is slowly taking over the grass! When the clover blooms, the
bees and bumblebees are everywhere! Another feature is our Linden Tree. It is about to bloom, and we are eagerly awaiting what we like to call the annual Bee Day! Once a year, for a day or two, the tree blooms and the honey bees go crazy - you can hear them from the house!"
And now for Catherine's Q & A with Maia!
We caught up with our amazing volunteer judges to hear their thoughts on judging the many 2020 Monarch and Caterpillar Awards’ gardens.
Erin Mallon, Landowner Outreach Technician with Conservation Halton. Erin is involved with the Cootes to Escarpment project and does invasive species management. She is working on the management action plan with the City of Hamilton, integrative management, chemical controls. She’s excited about the idea of using goats, like they do in Europe, to curtail invasive species.
Why the interest in judging?
I was interested in being a judge for the initiative for both personal and professional reasons. Professionally, I try to educate people on the importance of urban stormwater management, as well as native species landscaping.
Personally, I think the Monarch Awards is a great initiative to raise awareness and give some recognition to those gardeners who do so to benefit nature. Using neighbours to spread the word is so much more meaningful, it’s a more lateral approach, than top-down. In my own garden, I’ve got all kinds of native plants, but I’m not quite there yet [for an Award], so this is a good opportunity to see what is working for others, learning first hand through these great gardens, how plants get along. I’m building a network and learning so much from this initiative, while at the same time, sharing my knowledge.
The number one thing to mention is the absolute enthusiasm from the gardeners--they are excited, are good at troubleshooting and networking, they are a wealth of knowledge, and they are proud of their gardens.
As well, there is a diversity of people--not your typical gardener--and a lot of ingenuity in some of the ways they use space, source plants, interact with the neighbours; there’s a lot going on.
Favourite thing about your experience judging?
I enjoyed the gardens--they are all dynamic and unique. One Ancaster resident has a really neat property, the front yard is so beautiful. 98% of the plants are native. She had silk moths. I saw caterpillars and eggs on this urban property. She had a permeable driveway, lots on the neat pathways, a tulip tree, paw-paw trees, a Monarch Waystation, big pond-- all inspiring. I was blown away!
Challenges to judging/least favourite part?
No challenges, but you know, some of the gardens don’t quite meet all the criteria, so it can be disappointing for some applicants, but I say, try again next year.