My powerhouse lettuce plants have finally begun to go to seed. While I mourn the loss of any more sweet, tender, juicy leaves this spring, I am greedily awaiting the chance to gather up seeds from the plants for next season. My greenhouse lettuce has already produced seeds, so I’ve practiced in order to do it correctly when I collect seeds from my favorite plants outdoors. It is surprisingly easy to do, which I didn’t expect.
First we have this…
…and then we have this…
…in which the seed stalks have developed, as you can see by the weird looking branches on top of the tall plants. There are still leaves attached, but yeesh, are they bitter!
Lettuce plants produce ‘perfect’ flowers, meaning they have both male and female parts, and are self-pollinated. This means that cross-pollination between more than one plant is not required to collect viable seeds. (Score one for homesteading!)
Saving the seeds is a ‘hurry up and wait’ kind of affair. First you’ll see the stalks and flower heads form.
Then eventually they will put out a profusion of lovely yellow flowers.
Then the flowers will wither and die. When they fall off, the bases where they were attached will remain on the stalks, tightly closed. Gradually you will see some tiny little white fluff peeking out of the closed up places.
Then the fluff will emerge, looking like dandelion fuzz. This is where you have to walk a tightrope – if you pick out the fuzz and seeds too early, they’ll be immature, but wait too long and they’ll fall off or blow away. Generally, I have found that once the flower base has opened wide enough so that the black seeds are clearly visible, rattling around loosely under their tails of fluff, they are ready to be collected, as in the photo below, toward the top left corner.
There’s really no wrong way to do it. Either grab the fluff tails (carefully) and pull them out with the seeds attached, or pinch off the head at the base and carry it away. My preference is the latter, so that I can more easily separate the seeds from the chaff on a flat work surface. The seeds will be dry, so the only step left is to pick off the fluff tails (optional) and store them away in a labeled, sealed container, in a cool, dry place. Easy as 1-2-3!