Monday, October 3, 2016

Cleaning Pacifica Iris Seeds

Kathleen Sayce
October 2, 2016

Having put off seed cleaning much too long, today I cleaned seeds of all the iris pod bags collected this year, with a dry windy day to help the cleaning process along. 

Organza party bags with PCI 'Mission Santa Cruz' seeds inside. 

The goal:  To contain the seeds that this open pod sheds. Mission accomplished.

Organza party bags do a nice job of containing seeds as the pods ripen on the plants outside. Moss green fades nicely into the background, ensuring that those pods can hide for a year or two. Brighter colors ensure you can find the bags sooner rather than later. I put the pods in the bags into a clean, clearly-labeled brown paper bag to dry out of the sun in a cool spot in my house. 

The first seeds would ripen in June, but that lot is largely Ghio hybrids, which flower in March-April, and almost never set seed. One year there were more than 10 pods on PCI ‘Finger Pointing’. I bagged them, sent all the seeds to the seed exchange. That plant hasn’t set seed since. The irises that flower in May and June are the ones that reliably set seed in my garden. I bag pods ahead of ripening from late July to late August or early September. This is much later than gardens on the south half of the West Coast. 

Tools:  Mesh strainer, metal bowls, and fingers. 

I open the pods indoors, and shell out the seeds. Then I take the bowl of seeds with debris, and a second bowl outside, find a steady wind, and pour the seeds slowly from one bowl to another, about a foot apart, letting the wind separate out the chaff, dust, and other non-seed bits in the air between the bowls. 

A wire mesh strainer and lightweight metal bowl help when opening pods and cleaning off fine debris. One lot of seeds was rapidly splitting pods when I went out to cut them off the plants. I scraped up some seeds to add to the bag, so that bag had sand and mulch in it too. No photograph of this needed! It took about 8 pours, stopping to clean the empty bowl each time, to get the lighter debris out of that lot. I then had to pick out the mulch bits by hand. 
Note to self:  next year, cut off the pods you aren’t collecting, and if they hit the mulch, scrape it up and put it somewhere where the seeds can germinate on their own. 

The first autumnal storm blew through yesterday. Today with much lighter winds, I could trickle seeds from one bowl to another and let the wind blow off the lighter debris. I do this over a garden bed, so if seeds do blow out in a hard gust, they land where they can germinate. 

Easy pods to clean! These Iris tenax pods open on their own. All I have to do is check for seeds caught in the crevices.  

Pods vary widely in their ability to open on their own. Species pods do very well, especially Iris tenax, I. innominata and I. chrysophylla. For these seed lots, cleaning is a matter of checking the sections in each pod to make sure no seeds are still lodged inside. 

Annoying pods to clean:  Iris douglasiana pods often stay tightly closed in my climate. I clip the tips off, see lower photo, then pry out the seeds if removing the tips hasn't loosed the sutures along each section. 

Not so with Pacifica hybrids, as these pods, like Iris douglasiana, tend to be slower to open, or many not open at all. I cut off tips, break pods in half, roll them in my fingers or between palms to loosen seeds, then shake and pry them out. It’s a slow process. 

If I have the time, when the seeds are ripe but the pods are not yet fully dry (as they’ve turned yellowish brown), I open the pods as I cut them. They pull open like a three sided pea pod at that stage. Later, the pods are hard and the sutures, the splitting lines between the sections, harden. It might be climate:  gardening on the Pacific Northwest Coast, we do not experience the heat of gardens to the south along the West Coast. 

Cean dry seeds to send to the seed exchange. 

The result:  Clean seeds, with bugs, larvae, spiders, earwigs, snails and other seed and pod grazers removed, ready to bag and send to the seed chairman for the SPCNI Seed Exchange. 

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