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Wild Flower Fellowship

Hand Harvesting Seed

Published by lucy grove on Fri 02 September 2016
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A majority of wild flower seeds that Emorsgate grow is harvested by machinery. However, there are a number of species that need to be hand harvested.

Some seeds are hand harvested as only small quantities are required, such as for re-sowing of a crop. This was the case when we collected the seeds of White campion (Silene latifolia), where we walked through the crop, picking only the seed heads ready for harvesting. Although more time consuming than harvesting by machinery, it results in a more ‘pure’ collection. I was able to collect only the ‘ready’ seeds, and not those that had already shed. It also allowed me to be selective and only harvest the seeds of the species I required (many methods of machine harvesting result in a mixture of seeds that need to be further sorted).

 

Seiving the seed of White campion (Silene latifolia)
Seiving the seed of White campion (Silene latifolia)

 

Others species are hand harvested as they have emerged amongst another crop which will be harvested at a later date. We hand harvested a couple of bucket loads of Hoary plantain (Plantago media) which was growing amongst a good crop of Marjoram (Origanum vulgare). This species is primarily a plant of chalk and limestone but can be found on heavy clays and water meadows where conditions are calcareous and the sward is kept short.

 
   

 

Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) have these wonderful pinkish stamens with purple stalks
Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) have these wonderful pinkish stamens with purple stalks

 

Collecting the seeds of orchids is also undertaken by hand, and is personally my favourite wild flower to harvest. Spotting the orchids seed spikes was initially quite a challenge, but once I got my eye in they were everywhere, and my collecting bucket quickly filled. 

A much easier seed to spot, yet one that is a lot less friendlier to harvest, is that of the Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum). Thick gloves and sharp secateurs were in order for this harvest. The Wooly Thistle is a very distinctive with wonderful globular woolly heads topped with vibrant purple florets.

 

Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) harvested from amongst a crop of Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)
Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) harvested from amongst a crop of Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)
The Woolly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) is an easilty identifiable species by its large and very woolly heads!
The Woolly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) is an easilty identifiable species by its large and very woolly heads!

Like farming any other crop it’s important to keep an eye on how the flowers are growing and when their seeds are becoming ready for harvesting. In the coming weeks there will be a lot of other species becoming ready for hand harvesting such as Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis). These have very attractive pincushion blue-violet flower heads and is a highly attractive nectar source for an array of butterflies, bees and other insects.

An evening check of the crops to monitor maturing seeds
An evening check of the crops to monitor maturing seeds
Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) - I think one of our most beautiful wild flowers
Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) - I think one of our most beautiful wild flowers