Monday, November 3, 2014
Saving Tithonia Seeds
This year I have made a resolution to work in the garden in November. Usually at this time of the year I'm ready to stay indoors wrapped in blankets sipping hot chai and reading gardening magazines. I really have to embrace the season and get outside in spite of the rainforest weather. This Sunday we held an All Soul's event at Moberly and I went out in the rain for about fifteen minutes to cut the stems of the tithonia that were going to seed. I was hoping to get some help harvesting the seeds, but I didn't get many takers. This is the first year I've grown Mexican sunflower and it was one of the latest to bloom, attracting hummingbirds and the final bees of summer. The tithonia is still blooming in fact, but it's also going to seed. However, seed collecting weather is just about finished here because the fall rains make seed heads soggy and rotten.
"Save some of those tithonia seeds for me," various people have been requesting. This has proven difficult because once the seeds ripen the chickadees eat them or they drop onto the ground. This morning I listened to Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC radio and carefully pulled apart the seed heads, finding about 4 to 8 ripe seeds in the pods that were nearing maturity. Usually the seeds I harvest basically save themselves. I collect the pods just before the peak of ripeness, put the upside down in large paper bags and the seeds drop in the bottom of the bag and dry out. These little tithonia seeds took a lot of time to harvest. If I had to charge minimum wage for the labor of collecting them, those individual seeds would be about a buck a piece. And that doesn't include the labor of growing them. Needless to say, this is not the optimum climate for saving these seeds.
I am crazy about seeds. When the bees are tucked up in their winter beds, I turn my attention to seeds. Every morning I run my hands over the purple and black scarlet runner beans and the white "Neckarkonigin" beans that are drying on the table, and I choose some seed pods to harvest and organize. I can't wait to start getting the e-mails that tell me the new seed catalogues are online and ready for my perusal. Seeds make great Christmas gifts. Even if it's just a few "magic beans" from your own garden.
And in trying to keep warm, beans are the perfect food to cook to warm up the heart of the house. I am looking for that perfect comfort food casserole that you can serve all steamy and sloppy with lush layers of vegetables and cheese. Tonight I made braised red cabbage with apples (Martha Stewart's recipe with a squeeze of lemon juice). I try to roast chicken and vegetables so there are always leftovers in the refrigerator to turn into quick lunches and soups. And I bake with seeds. I've been making ginger snaps rolled in buckwheat groats or sesame seeds to snack on with that spicy chai. Some of you may not be surprised that with all the seed saving I'm doing, we've got a few mice in residence this fall. At first we had one very sweet well-behaved mouse. Since it didn't go forth and multiply, I thought it must be a male. He was so well-behaved, limiting his nibbling on a little bag of birdseed I left on a bottom shelf. I would wake early to write, listening to my favorite feminist podcasts, and the little mouse would nibble quietly in the corner, listening with me. Then mister mouse must have brought in a girlfriend because suddenly we had wee little adventurous mice jumping about and nibbling my seeds. We battened down he hatches and put out the traps. My sweet listening companion heard his final feminist podcast and ate his last nyger seed.
So until we're positive we've caught every last mouse . . . (We haven't. One just run under the couch beside my left foot), I'd better put those tithonia seeds in a safe place.) Happy seed saving!
Anyone want to venture a guess at the species of bumblebee in the photo above?
ETA: I've just noticed how phallic the florets are in the center of the flower, which explains why I found the mature seeds in the outer edges of the seed head. Also, note the large pollen grains.