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Seed Collection

Good quality Ontario genotype seed is the foundation for any grassland restoration or creation project.  Tallgrass Ontario only recommends using true Ontario genotype seed as the success rate for grassland projects is much greater than using seed from the United States.  Other factors that discourage the use of foreign seed is the potential for the seed to introduce unwanted genetic traits into the native Ontario population.  True native Ontario plants have developed adaptations to our climate, moisture regime and insects that foreign seed have not and its crucial we keep these genetics as pure as possible. 

Another issue with importing seed is the potential to import unwanted weed seeds along with the grassland seed.  Although the cost of foreign seed may be slightly less than Ontario genotype seed, the risk to the native Ontario populations is far to great to justify the slight cost savings.

Seed Collection

Collecting local seed is not a difficult task, in fact, TGO routinely collects seed each fall to obtain seed for the following years restoration or creation projects.  TGO has acquired the seed collection rights to a large number of sites that have been previously planted using Ontario genotype seed.  These creation projects can provide large quantities of suitable seed that can be collected by volunteers or paid staff depending on the amount of seed required.  TGO generally collects seed from about 40 species of forbs (flowers) commonly found in Ontario grasslands.  Our collection program concentrates on only forbs as all of our seed is collected by hand from mixed tallgrass prairie plantings.  Collecting the actual grass species by hand is not economical and there are a few organizations that produce quality Ontario genotype grass seed.  All of the grass seed used by TGO for its projects is purchased from these suppliers. 

Timing

Seed collection takes generally takes place in the fall, from early September until the snow flies or until the seed has all been eaten by birds or dispersed naturally by the plants.  Typically, each species matures at different times, and some species mature in mid summer.  Watching a grassland throughout the year is the best way to determine when to start collecting seed.  Seed is generally ready to be collected about a month after the plant is done blooming, although some plants (like Tall Sunflower) are best collected slightly green as the plant will shed its seed once the flower has dried.  The best way to determine if a seed is ready to be collected is to pick a few seeds.  When the seed is dry and hard the seed is ready to be harvested and stored.

Collecting

Collecting forb seed is as simple as wandering through a prairie with a few bags strapped around your waist with a pair of garden clippers in your hand.  As long as you know what you are looking for a few hours spent in a prairie can produce a lot of seed that can do a lot of good work for habitat conservation.  Effectively collecting seed is simply snipping off the seed head, keeping each species separate and drying and storing the seed heads properly.  You can learn the species that TGO uses in its plantings by visiting our Seed ID pages in this website.  Once you learn to identify the plant and then the plant when it is in seed, the rest is quite simple. 

Cleaning and Storage

The raw seed you collect needs to be dried properly, cleaned and stored properly to remain viable.  Drying in small lots can be accomplished simply by spreading the seed out on a sheet of newspaper in a warm dry room.  Once the seed and hulls are completely dry, the seed needs to be separated from the stem and other plant material.  The easiest way is to rub the seed and chaff over progressively smaller screens sized to match each species.  If you are seeding a project by hand or by a broadcast spreader its not important to separate the seed from very small bits of plant material, as long as the pieces of plant material larger than the seed are removed.  If you are seeding with a grassland drill the seed needs to be very clean and should be done by machine.  TGO can help with cleaning seed if you or your group needs the seed cleaned by machine.

If refrigerated storage is not available, cleaned seed should be stored in paper bags in a cool location, free from pests and moisture.  The best way to store seed is in an airtight container in a refrigerator.  Seed stored in this manner can remain viable for years.  Seed not stored properly will gradually loose its viability and all your work will have gone to waste.