Here is an important point that is rarely explained to anyone trying to grow plants from seed: most perennials germinate much more succesfully from fresh seed. So, all those times when you bought a packet of seeds and wondered why nothing germinated, well, it probably wasnt your fault. We know that seeds can be kept dry for very long times and can still produce plants, but that doesnt mean than its easy to get that seed to work its magic. I am not say dry seed is bad, just more difficult.
Annuals are much easier to grow from seed, which is why you can often grow them by sowing directly into the soil where you want them to grow. But, unlike annuals, perennials dont need to rely on seed for reproduction. Being ‘perennial’ some of them don’t even need to generate viable seed every year to survive as they have options: send out ‘runners’ or side shoots, grow new sections from rhizomes, or even just wait for next year. So they produce good seed when the conditions are right or if they are under stress, ie need to reproduce quickly in case they die. (This makes it difficult for the seed providers to even know if they are selling you good seed.)
Then, once the plant has made seed, it waits until the right time to drop it or allow it to be dispersed by birds/animals etc, and then the seed waits again in the soil for the right time to germinate. So naturally, seeds don’t sit around in a dry state for very long.
At rosybee, we grow the majority of our plants from seed and its very clear that if I sow seeds at the stage when they are ripe on the plant but not fully dry, they tend to germinate immediately. Also, nearly 100% of those seeds will germinate, versus a much lower % for fully dry seeds. This is no refleciton on my seed suppliers as the same is true of our own seed if dried.
This finding has meant that we have moved much more of our production from spring to autumn and I sow as I collect the seed. Its a job that I love doing, roaming the research bed onec or twice a week collecting what is ready and being led by the plants rather than the production schedule. We dont have any fancy equipment to clean our seeds but I managed to find a set of small seives which vary and mesh size. They stack so you can put your seed mixed with dried cases in the top course seive and shake them through the stack till the seed rests on whichever seive is the right size, leaving larger bits above and dust below. Very handy.
So, if you are confident with growing from seed, try gathering your own and sowing it fresh. Friends and neighbours will usually be happy to let you take seed, as it does no harm to the plant. Remember that if you sow in autumn and nothing comes up within the first month then the seed may want to go through the cold of winter and germinate in spring. Keep any seed trays that don’t respond outside in a spot where they will get some rain but avoid them getting really soggy. Beside a doorstep or sheltered wall is ideal or a cold frame if you have one.