When we think about edible gardens, full of fresh and delicious produce, the first things that spring to mind are fruits and vegetables, and then perhaps herbs. But what about seeds and grains – where do they fit in, and are they even worth growing? The answer is a resounding yes!
Full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy fats, seeds and grains have plenty to contribute to your garden. Here’s our pick of the crop...
Pumpkins are big news in the autumn vegetable garden! Give them rich soil and plenty of room and they will reward you with two harvests for the effort of one – full-flavoured flesh and snackable seeds.
Cut the pumpkin open then scrape the seeds out with a spoon. Pull off any bits of stringy flesh then rinse them clean in water. Now spread them out onto a baking sheet or pan, drizzle over olive oil then sprinkle on a few ingredients to add flavour. Salt is a great starting point. We also love adding some chilli pepper flakes and fennel seeds before mixing it all together to combine.
Roast them in the oven at 350ºF, 180ºC or Gas Mark 4 for about 10 minutes. Once the seeds are golden, take them out of the oven and leave them to cool down completely before storing in an airtight container – if you can resist eating them there and then that is!
Give sunflowers a sunny spot in the garden, sheltered from strong winds, and they’ll be standing tall and proud by summer. The seeds are ready to harvest once the petals have withered and the seeds can clearly be seen. Rub the seed head back and forth to dislodge the seeds.
Roast sunflower seeds as they are – no need for oil – in as little as five minutes. But we reckon salted sunflower seeds taste best. Pour two pints, or a litre of water into a pan along with two tablespoons of salt and a cup of seeds. Bring the water to the boil then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the seeds, spread them out on a baking sheet and roast for up to 15 minutes. After 10 minutes is up, check the seeds every few minutes, because they can go from perfect to burnt very quickly. Let them cool before storing. Enjoy the seeds, but spit out the tough shells.
Amaranth and Quinoa
Amaranth and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) are two protein-rich grains that make a delicious alternative to rice or pasta. They aren’t difficult to grow and they make colourful additions to the garden. Plant them into nutrient-rich, well-drained soil that gets plenty of sun then, once they’re established, they’ll quickly take off!
The grains are ready when they are easy to shake free. You’ll need to winnow the chaff from the grains, first by sieving and then carefully blowing away what remains or by catching a breeze. Allow the grains to dry thoroughly for at least a week before storing. Quinoa needs rinsing in water before cooking to ensure it's not bitter.
Poppy seeds – delicious in cakes and bread – come from the opium or breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum. In most areas it’s perfectly legal to grow this type of poppy for its pretty flowers and tasty seeds, but check local laws before planting!
This sun-lover is ready to harvest once the seedpods are dry and seeds spill out of the top when turned upside down. Cut them off and bring them indoors to a warm room to finish drying. Then pull the pods apart to free the seeds for storing.
Seeds for Spices
Many leafy herbs will also produce seeds for the spice cabinet. Fennel is an easy-to-grow herb that comes back year after year. Sunshine and a free-draining soil should see plants thrive, throwing up clouds of pretty yellow flowers each summer. Then simply wait for the seeds that follow, gather them up and dry for storage.
Like fennel, caraway is a member of the carrot family. It prefers cooler, temperate climates and, as a biennial, only lives for two years. Keep plants well watered in the first year to encourage strong plants producing plenty of seeds in their second.
Grow your own coriander seeds too – by allowing coriander to flower and set seed, which it readily does if sown in the first half of the year as days continue to lengthen.
And then there are nigella seeds, also known as black onion seeds, though bearing no relation. The seeds come from the hardy annual nigella, or love-in-a-mist. Sow the seeds in autumn into well-drained soil that’s been raked to a fine tilth, or wait til spring if your winters are very cold. Harvest the seedheads when they are crisp-dry.
There’s a few ideas to get you started. And don’t forget, many of these plants are also a big attraction for wildlife – if you don’t mind sharing! Tell us if you’ve grown any of these seeds or grains before, or perhaps you have others to recommend? Let us know down below.