Saving Seeds: Lettuce and Arugula

How to go about saving seeds from lettuce and arugula plants.

Gardening in Florida is still a new thing for me. Even though I have lived here in Florida for many years, I never had a vegetable garden until recently. Typical tropical plants and flowers I understand, but I never had time to try to grow crops like lettuce and arugula.

Finally, I think I am beginning to get the hang of it. I realize I can’t grow what I used to grow in New Hampshire’s short summers. I’ve tried to grow cucumbers and squash without luck. Maybe the seeds were bad, I don’t know. This is such a different climate. Everything is backwards as far as planting seasons.

Lettuce and arugula (and kale) like cooler temps. I planted those seeds in Fall. They have done well over the winter months, even with Christmas temperatures in the 20’s.

Now it’s time to save the seeds. My plants began from a company called Seeds of Change. I bought the seeds at my local Home Depot. The seeds are certified organic, and nearly everything I planted has done very well. I absolutely recommend this brand of seeds.

kale seeds organic

Collecting Seeds From Lettuce

The lettuce was planted in with some peppers so I didn’t have much space. I wasn’t too hopeful for it to do well. But it did! I never ate any because it was bitter, but I have collected the seeds to try again next season. I’ll have to save space for a lettuce garden.

Now that it is March, the hot weather is on the way, so I want to let my greens go to seed so I can collect those seeds. I’ll save them inside the house to plant in the Fall.

I’ve never had luck growing lettuce so this was a complete surprise. My lettuce was a mix, so I am not sure which types these were. But one of the plants sent off this long shoot which ended up hanging over the side of the garden bed.

The green leaves ended up dying back and the stems became full of seed pods!

The spiky, thin stems each held dried pods holding little black seeds! I have collected a bunch of them.

I’ve also collected seeds from a flowering lettuce stem that produced dandelion type heads. Once the weather gets cool again, I will plant them and see what happens.

Collecting Arugula Seeds

I’m sorry to say that I am unfamiliar with arugula. I tried some of the leaves, which are peppery and really good, but without something to mix them with, I rarely ate them.

Now I am letting the flowers grow to get the seeds. I didn’t realize that the stems hold the pods that will dry out and give me seeds, until I noticed them!

I’ve seen honey bees and many other insects on the arugula flowers. Even if you don’t use your greens or other herbs and vegetables, let them grow and create flowers to help the insects. Also, the stalks dry out to become useful sticks. I used those to direct my watermelon vines where I wanted them to go!

How to Save Seeds

In general, plants will “go to seed” once the growing season is done. Also called “bolting” it means the energy of the plant goes into making seeds to continue the vegetable / herb. Lots of flowers have seeds in the dead flower head and can be saved that way.

marigold seeds
Marigold seeds

Left alone, the seeds will dry, fall to the ground, and self-seed next time. But we can let the seeds dry and then collect them to plant.

The only trouble is, that plants may create seeds in different ways. Some seeds come from the “fruit”, like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. Others “go to seed” and create seeds from flowers or pods.

Here is a photo of the dill plant that produced beautiful flowers that turned into hundreds of seeds.

Dill flower heads turned to seeds

I ended up with too many dill plants. I dug them up and put them all around the edge of the yard. They are very hardy and don’t need much attention. I love dill and fennel (they are very similar looking) because their flowers attract beneficial insects. I do collect the leafy parts to chop and use when cooking.

Dill and fennel are also host to swallowtail butterfly larvae. The caterpillars feed on the plant and are then eaten by cardinals – in my yard. If you are lucky, some will create cocoons and a new butterfly. Either way, the caterpillars are useful.

More garden stories for you


Spring Again, March in the Backyard Garden

Planting some vegetables in the March garden in central Florida.

Here in Central Florida we are still having “cool” weather which I love. The neighbors are wearing winter clothing (seriously?) and complaining. When I say “I love this weather”, they tell me to go back to Vermont (I’m from New Hampshire).

I guess Floridians get grumpy when it’s cold.

The weather is perfect for planting the garden, and truly I should have begun sooner. Unfortunately I still have the lack-of-dirt problem. I’ve continued to add leaves, grass, and kitchen compost to the raised bed, but need to buy bags of dirt.

Now I have the money, but need the help lugging all those bags of soil and fertilizer / compost from the store and to the backyard.

For now I am using a few fabric bags where I have planted zucchini (or summer squash, I can’t remember which), lettuce and potatoes.  All are doing very well and growing fast.

Check out my other posts to see how things are going: May in the Garden.

squash plant
Zucchini or yellow squash (can’t remember which)

Tonight I will snip off the tops of this bib lettuce for supper. It will continue to grow back unless the hot weather moves in. Lettuce likes it cool.

lettuce growing in a fabric pot
The lettuce is loving the cooler weather

Yesterday I searched the Home Depot for some decent vegetable plants. I came away with a Celebrity tomato, and something called a Bonnie Original. One is a determinate and one an indetermanent, and as I stood there in the garden center I couldn’t remember what that meant. I thought one was grown within a cage and the other was sprawling. I think I was sort of right. Read more here about the difference between the two types.

tomato plants
Little tomato plants

I have tomato-stealing raccoons, so I’m not going nuts with the tomato plants. I also have a limited amount of space to grow things. The tomatoes may end up in bags with handles so I can easily move them inside at night away from tiny raccoon paws.

Potatoes growing in fabric pot
Potato vines

I planted some red potatoes, from my kitchen, with big “eyes” and that is what is growing in one of the fabric bags. I have good luck with potatoes. Although they are usually quite small, they are delicious.

I am so excited to see this little “volunteer” pepper plant! Glad I didn’t weed it out before I recognized it. My original pepper plant is still living and growing from last Spring! Even with all the cold weather over the winter, it survived (although it has a few aphids) and is flowering now. Amazing. I trimmed off the curling leaves and will see what it does. Apparently a seed was dropped, and now a new pepper plant is growing. I’d never heard of a “volunteer” plant until I lived in New Hampshire. My preferred word for them is “free”!

little pepper plant
“Volunteer” pepper plant

On my latest trip to Pell’s Nursery in Osteen I picked up this little Navel orange tree. I have left it in it’s original pot for now, but bought that ceramic one for later use. It has a few little oranges growing which I hope don’t fall off. Sometime between October and March I should be picking an orange or two from my yard.

little navel orange tree in pot
My new Navel orange tree

I’ve had good luck with growing the Persian Lime, so thought I’d add more citrus to the yard.

A Little Salad From My Backyard Winter Garden

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-3-38-01-pmJust made myself a salad with ingredients from my (very) small backyard garden. In fact it’s really just a few pots with lettuce, parsley and scallions / green onions.  I added some flaxseed meal and a side of potato salad, but the greens came from the yard!

When there is fresh food growing just outside the door, it’s hard to choose NOT to eat it.  After all, it took work to plant it and care for it, so why not enjoy it as often as possible?  Plus I am lucky enough to still have food growing in January!  I am in Florida now, and I have to constantly remind myself that it IS winter…. in other places.

Floridians believe it is winter here.  When the temps plummet to 60 degrees they put on their heavy hoodies, tied tightly around their heads as they head out to walk the dogs.  What?  I wave to them as I stand there in my capris and t-shirt and then I turn and laugh.  My blood will thin out again too, and one day I will think 60 is cold… I guess.  For now, the icy cold of a January day in New Hampshire is still fresh in my mind.

Back to garden talk.  I know that planting season is coming soon down here in Florida, and I am stressing a bit because my raised bed is not filled with dirt.  BUT, a friend made a suggestion, which I may do because it seems easier than trying to buy a load of dirt and move it into the container.  I also have a sprinkler system to worry about crushing.  If I decide to try the “new way of gardening” I’ll share it in a soon-to-come post.

For now I am enjoying my greens.  I can’t wait for the citrus (lemons and limes) to grow.  Fresh lemonade would go well with this meal!

Cold Weather Crops: Lettuce

Planting lettuce while I wait for the weather to warm up.

lettuce growing garden
Growing Lettuce
Some of the best cold weather crops include lettuce. I sprinkle the seeds into my raised bed where I don’t have to worry about disturbing the ground unintentionally. Tomorrow is Saturday and I’ll be outdoors cleaning up the yard a bit. There is a lot to do. I live downhill from the road, and my front yard is right on the road. What this means is that all the sand and salt from the winter plowing and snow-blowing is covering some of my gardens and lawn. There is always a lot of raking to do to remove the old leaves, and the sand along with them. The wheelbarrow has been buried, but I think it’s reachable by now.

I’ll check at Job Lots and see if they have seed packs. Lettuce is easiest to grow from seed. I had good luck with the mixed lettuce seeds last year. I grew some in Spring and Fall, cutting off the small leaves as they grew.

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