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Saving Comfrey seeds -- how?  RSS feed

 
Tom Harner
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Location: St. Louis, MO
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So I have a true comfrey plant that has flowered... Can anyone give me tips on seed saving? can I just cut the stalk, dry them and work the seeds out? Or must they dry on the plant?
 
Joshua Parke
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Location: Northern New Mexico, Latitude:35 degrees N, Elevation:6000'
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IMO, "and that's all it is at this moment", the seeds would become more developed if you left them on the living plant to mature. I'm trying to recall when it is that I begin seeing them in the animals fur....I'm just not recalling. Though it feels that it isn't until later in the summer or maybe even early fall. Are you concerned of the seeds falling off and not being able to find them? I was thinking that you could tie some cotton/fabric of some type to the plants so that when the seeds are ready to fall off, they'll grab the fabric if they touch it. Then you can come back later to collect your seeds.
 
John Polk
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I am not familiar with saving comfrey seeds, but for most thing, I have always heard that the seeds are best if allowed to mature on the living plant. This allows the plant to continue sending food and energy to the seed, thus helping to assure its viability. Everything that the seed needs to germinate and survive through the seedling stage must be stored within the seed before it is ready.

I have seen thousands of plants, hanging upside down (roots and all) from the rafters, with catch tarps below them. This is usually annual plants that would have died soon anyways. With a perennial, I have seen what looked like large tea bags tied around the flowers to collect seed. Immature seed will have a lower germination/survival rate than mature seed, regardless of the species.
 
Dan Boone
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I spent too much for a too-small packet of comfrey seeds last year. After the usual germination difficulties and some seedling mishaps and a long summer that's hotter than comfrey mostly prefers, I reached the fall with two surviving plants, one fairly vigorous and one somewhat puny. Both of them came back strong as soon as things warmed up in early April and the better of them has flowered and gone to seed. I have acres and acres where comfrey would be preferable to what is currently growing, so I am somewhat interested in harvesting the seeds if it can be done easily. (Of course I can and will divide the roots too, but still.)

However, it's looking like quite a challenge to save comfrey seed! On my plant at least, the flowers mature into seed pods in long sets of pods spread along a stem. The flowers closer to the base of the pod mature first, and as the seed pods ripen, the seeds inside change color from green to black (or dark brown maybe). Then the pods open and the seeds immediately fall out. The problem is, there's enough difference from the base of the stem to the tip, that only one or two pods of seeds is ready to harvest at any one time. On any given stem I have lots of open pods (with seeds already fallen out, I'm too late), one or two partially-open pods with dark ripe seeds still visible inside (those I can easily get), one or two tightly-closed pods that prove to have dark/ripe seeds inside, and then lots of still-ripening pods where the seeds inside are still green, immature, and stuck tight inside. Given this challenging situation, how does anybody ever harvest comfrey seeds efficiently? Do they bag whole stems in advance?

What I've done is pick off all the open and partially-open seed pods that still have visible seeds, plus one or two of the most-mature pods adjacent that are still closed. Everything is pretty much still covered in sticky comrey mucilage (the weather is wet) so I'm drying all that in a bowl and I hope/expect I'll be able to shred all the pods with my fingertips and winnow out some seeds once everything is dry. But it seems very inefficient. Is there a better way?

You can sort of see the progression in the attached photo.
comfrey-seed-pods.jpg
[Thumbnail for comfrey-seed-pods.jpg]
comfrey seed pods in various stages of ripening
 
Judith Browning
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I've been watching mine for ripe seed, nothing yet...it is still green......I'm probably a few weeks behind you here. The plants are huge though and have a lot of flowers so maybe if I just get a portion of the seed I'll have plenty for me and to share. I remember that my basil seed and a few other things seemed to spread out the flowering/ripening seed thing over a long period of time.
Where did you buy seed, Dan? Mine is from Richters and I think I remember that it was less than three dollars for a packet....not a huge amount of seed, but of the four healthy plants that I have, if I save seed and divide a clump occasionally, I think I will have a lot of comfrey. I think I could get better germination the next time.
IMG_2160.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_2160.JPG]
 
Johann Paetsch
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I just looked on Youtube and found this about Comfrey:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou1Bh4Cr3s8

Then I also found this on how to make new plants from the ones you have, using bits of the roots in the free cardboard toilet tubes:
part 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT97u7oJIGI

and part 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j4BNtV1QUk

Wouldn't this be easier then by the seeds?

 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Thank you, Johann....yes, divisions are easier maybe...I have several different varieties of comfrey (most are sterile) and this is a particular one that I've been wanting to propagate because it has viable seed. I'll dig and divide it eventually but in the meantime I want to grow some more plants from it's seeds....The seeds are a bonus!
I think seed saving is an art in itself and all plants have their own quirks.....this one is an interesting challenge and I guess that's partly why I am determined to save the seed......I really like the idea of saving seed from several generations of my own plants
 
Johann Paetsch
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Ah, yes I see what you mean.

So I did another search and came up with this man who made small bags with his sewing machine using a material called tulle which is like a very fine nylon netting. The holes allow the plant to grow and dry as it normally would, allowing the seeds to mature, but catches the seed heads before they fall to the soil. Perhaps this could help in your endeavour?

Here's the video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miXyBMBKQ9U
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I like that idea........thanks again, Johann. I've embedded the video below

 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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i have done that before, with putting bags over the seed pods.
violas are really hard to catch, one day they arent quite ready, or so it seems, and then the next you go out and they are gone....

so i started doing this with these organza bags i have. they are "gift bags" for weddings or whatever, i buy them in bulk for super cheap for selling my jewelery, and having something nice to package it in. the designs i dont like as much get used for this...sometimes...
though now i just wait till the violas pop up their seed pods...right when they are ready they turn the pod up to face the sun, where before its ready it faces downward, for maximum fling distance i guess, they lift them up...but enough rambling =)


heres the pic :


this works for a lot of different seeds that tend to fling their seeds, or quickly ripen.....

i have found with those, and some other things, you can pick them before they are completely done. but you need to keep them in the pods, attached to as much of the stem as possible, to dry out and they will finish ripening.
but you have to get them when they are totally close enough. its way better to let them completely ripen on the plant, and with most things this is easy, but some things like to fling the seeds quickly, instead of hold tight to them, which makes collecting them very difficult.
 
Dan Boone
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Judith, I don't recollect precisely how much I paid for this seed, or where online I ordered it. I just remember being disappointed that when it came, there were only about a dozen seeds in there. Thinking that would be plenty, and not knowing that comfrey can be hard to germinate and slow to mature from seedlings, I didn't worry about it.

I can see we think alike about the seeds, too. One of my plants got planted out from pot to soil about a week ago, and I harvested some pot-bound root chunks to propagate, we'll see if that works. And I know I can divide these plants when they get bigger. My thing is, though, that until I have all the comfrey I want (which will be years) every extra seed is another resource. Maybe the roots are "easier" (I don't have experience of that working yet) but if I can have root divisions and lots of seeds to incorporate in my various plantings, that's clearly better, right?

Unfortunately I haven't got any seed bags on hand, nor much skill at sewing either one. Honestly I had hoped Comfrey wouldn't be so quick to shatter as soon as each seed pod finished ripening. Any time the solution to a gardening problem is "go buy something" I usually try pretty hard to see if there's another way.
 
Johann Paetsch
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I suppose it would be also possible to tie a small paper bag or the TOE cut from PANTY HOSE over the seed heads to prevent dispersal before you can harvest the seeds?

Necessity is the mother of invention.
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Dan, When I read about the bag idea, I thought immediately of curtain material (my mother called them 'sheers') that is almost like a gauze....I've seen them at our local thrift store for 50 cents and then I have a sewing machine and the ability to make a good bag with a drawstring....so for me the idea sounded 'cheap and easy and reusable'. I suppose that difficulty of harvest, is why the seed is doled out in smaller amounts by the seed companies..........I expect that they use bags to harvest also, though.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5723
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Johann Paetsch wrote:I suppose it would be also possible to tie a small paper bag or the TOE cut from PANTY HOSE over the seed heads to prevent dispersal before you can harvest the seeds?

Necessity is the mother of invention.


our thrift store has panty hose also...i never considered buying any but I think they would work well....especially for tiny seeds. I think you could just tie a knot at the bottom and use several sections for different seed heads.

 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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like these -

Organza gift bags

more organza drawstring pouches


sometimes i find them super cheap in weird places. ebay- has tons of them.... ive even found some plain ones at the dollar store....
i get kinda fancy ones anyway, so for me this is something i have laying around.

i like the panty hose idea =)
 
Johann Paetsch
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Comfrey flowers are good sized and they quickly turn into a beetle sized seed but then the flower quickly turn upside down, open up and dump the seed down and out. Since you are not out there every moment to find out when these plants are ready to drop their seeds. Bags are there to collect the seeds

Here is another guy that uses nylon washing bags that are really fine mesh.
These let the air in, let the moisture in and out, and let the sun in but they don't let the seeds out.
You can find these reusable bags at the grocery store or the drug store to collect his comfrey seeds.

In his video he even shows what the seeds look like. Quite large and black.

https://www.facebook.com/321232817092/videos/1494079224915/

Perhaps this will also help you catch those seeds?
 
Dan Boone
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So, eight hours after I brought in my bowl full of comfrey seed pods from the wet great outdoors, I reached into said bowl with my fingertips to stir the still-damp pods and expose different surfaces to the air for drying.

Much to my surprise, there was an explosion of tiny high-velocity ants out of the bowl. They ran down the sides, up my arms, and in all directions across the counter, about fifty of them. I did a fast dance of shucking, shedding, brushing, and squishing, just in case they should also turn out to be biters; but I do not think they actually were. I guess they were hiding out in the seed pods during the wet weather!

 
Tom Harner
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Last year I tried to collect some seed by hand, but had no luck with making them germinate... I'll have to try the bagging method.
I did however have GREAT success with dividing my one strong plant. Using very small root divisions, I only had one failure. It was right next to the chicken coop, where too much traffic kept it too weak to survive.

Judith/Dan, If your plant is flowering, I suggest that you go ahead and split it... I was afraid to kill my one plant (I only waited until after the first flowering), but it turns out my fear was unfounded, now I have 10 plants to work with this year.
 
Anne Miller
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The thread is really great for any seed saving not just comfrey.  I am very interested in learning more.

I am experimenting with leaving the seed heads on plants to the very last moment.  And experimenting deadheading too.

Thanks for the information on the organza bags.
 
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