Broke for the holidays: Planting the gift of seeds


It was sticker shock that had me talking my six-year-old into helping me gather sunflower and calendula seeds from our yard a few weeks ago. A few dozen sunflower seeds had been nearly $3; same with the calendula, seeds so impossibly lightweight that the paper packet must have weighed four or five times its contents.

And there we were, gathering the dried curly seeds from the spent flowers, filling the little jar I'd brought outside to overflowing, requiring me to get a half-pint jar to house the wildly abundant cosmos seeds.

"We'll give them as Christmas gifts!" I said exuberantly, and since then, my son has been industrious, helping me gather seeds from bachelor buttons, onions, and calendula. When I do laundry, I find sunflower seeds in his pockets. They're the good ones -- infrared, a startling and gorgeous almost black-red flower -- so I save them.

Calendula and cosmos grow like weeds here in Portland, so it's easy this month to gather them and sort by color (if any of the flowers are still growing on the plants from which you harvest seeds) and store them in airtight containers. You'll want a relatively cool place; if you keep them in the fridge, be sure to find a moisture absorber to include in the container. Buy small envelopes or, even better, recycle spice jars and old manila envelopes into homemade wildflower seed packets. Have your kids help you decorate the envelopes. Flower seeds are not just a welcome gift (at least in my house) that will grow into beautiful flowers, but these species are all beneficial to other plants, mostly edible, and attract honeybees. What's more, you can sneak a little science into your holiday preparation. It's way better than going to the mall!