Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Collecting Mustard Seed

A few years ago someone gave me mustard seed.  I don't remember who was responsible for the gift.  What I do remember was that I wasn't sure I wanted mustard seed.  I had never eaten mustard as a green and didn't know if I would like it.  But I can't resist a seed and so it was planted one spring with low expectations.  

Look what appeared.

Giant Red Mustard
From a tiny reddish looking seedling giant red leaves grew.  This plant is so pretty you might just want to have it as an ornamental.

red mustard  leaves
But does it taste good?  The answer is yes.  It's got a bit of that horseradish kick so we don't eat it in large quantities but when you want to add a little zing to otherwise bland salad greens this is the way to do it.  Ever since that first planting I'm hooked.

Most salad greens are pulled in summer because they bolt and go to seed.  But I'm a lazy gardener so I let the plants grow and grow.  Now I know why it's called Giant Red Mustard.  Not only are the leaves large but these beauties can reach 4 feet tall in mid-summer.  Like other plants in the mustard family they produce clouds of tiny yellow blossoms.

Bright red and green leaves with yellow flowers.  Pretty stylish plant I'd say.  Once it's done blooming the show still isn't over.  Even the seed pods look good.  Green pods ripen to red and then brown as they dry.

Now if you're going to let you plant flower and produce seed you might as well collect some of it.  Dried mustard pods are easily cracked open to reveal small round seeds, around 10 seeds per pod.

So many seeds in a pod makes for easy collection.  I simply grabbed a paper bag and ran my hands up the stem of the plant pulling the pods off and into the bag.  Some pods broke as I did this releasing the seeds.  I wound up with pods and seeds in my bag which I brought indoors and sorted.

Using a screen to separate pods and seeds
Screens are handy tools when cleaning seeds.  Drop the bag of seed on your screen.  Smoosh it around a bit and the seeds will fall through the screen and the pods will lay on top.

If you don't have a screen don't worry.  Just drop the lot on a piece of paper.  The seeds are heavier than the dried pods and will fall to the bottom.  Scoop the pods off the top, scraping out any excess seeds that haven't fallen out.  Even if you miss a few you will easily have mustard seed for yourself and all your friends.

Mustard is very easy to germinate and grow.  I plant it directly into the garden in early spring as soon as the snow has melted.  The plants prefer cool weather and sprout within a week or so for spring salads.  Pair it with young lettuce to spice up your dinner plate.  or if you prefer plant it just because it's darn good looking.