Photos by Steve and Kerryn Martin from the Lost Seed
Mustard greens Brassica juncea are a little-known leafy vegetable, typically grown over winter as they are quite frost-tolerant. They tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, and are easy to grow. Both leaves and flowers may be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach (which removes the hot flavour). With the onset of warmer weather these attractive plants will quickly set seed, and produce hundreds of tiny seeds per plant.
Life Cycle And Pollination:
An annual – will produce seed in the first year. Both self– and cross–pollinating: although self-fertile, plants will produce more seeds if regularly visited by insects. Will cross with Chinese mustard and other mustards. To ensure purity, grow varieties at least 400 m apart.
How To Save Seed:
Select from only the strongest plants: remove those that show signs of disease, or which bolt early. Plants produce flowering stalks to 1.2 m high, so they are best staked. Pods will mature progressively on the one plant. As branches turn brown, cut them, place them in a large paper bag and leave to dry in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Alternatively, when the majority of seed pods on the bush are brown and dry, and the seeds rattle inside, harvest the whole bush, then place it in a hessian bag and leave to dry. Seeds will be ready after one to five days, or when seeds become too hard to dent with a fingernail. Dry seed pods are easily shattered and will readily release their seed; otherwise rub pods between your hands, causing them to break open. For larger quantities, place the dried plant material in a tub and tread on the pods. Discard any stems and pods, then screen and winnow the remaining seed. Use a piece of felt to remove any of the finer, unwanted material: simply stretch it over a large, flat board, place that on an incline and roll the seed over it – any chaff will adhere to the board, leaving the seed at the bottom to be collected.
Use isolation cages if you want to save seeds of more than one variety, or if you are worried about cross-pollination from neighbours and can’t achieve the distance required to keep seed pure. Poly-pipe hoops set over metal star pickets and then covered with insect barrier mesh will give the required height for the flowering stalks, and also keep out any unwanted insects. To ensure good seed set, introduce insects into the cage at flowering time. Blowfly pupae (maggots – yes, that’s right!) are the best option, as they don’t carry unwanted pollen with them – either collect your own using rotten meat, or ask for ‘ready to hatch blowfly pupae’ at your local fishing bait store.
Seed Storage And Viability:
Store dried seed in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. The seed may remain viable for up to four years.
Find them at thelostseed.com.au