I can’t get enough of garden-fresh dill leaves in homemade egg salad or refrigertor pickles. But dill, unfortunately, is an annual herb, and that means the fresh leaf harvests don’t last nearly long enough. Dill will eventually bolt, or grow really tall and then produce pretty yellow flowers. These flowers mean the plant is no longer interested in growing tasty leaves for you.
On the bright side, the plant will now produce dill seeds. Hundreds and hundreds of dill seeds, which can, of course, be used to grow new dill plants next year. That means one packet of dill seeds is all you ever need to buy for a lifetime supply of dill plants. Dill seeds are also edible and pretty tasty, so you can stock your spice cabinet with each dainty dill flower.
Let’s look at the benefits of letting your dill plants go to seed in your herb garden and then step-by-step instructions for saving your own dill seeds.
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THE BENEFITS OF LETTING DILL PLANTS FLOWER IN THE GARDEN
Dill, with its feathery leaves, is one of my favorite herbs to grow in my vegetable garden. Not only is it a beautiful, low-maintenance plant with leaves and stems rich in vitamins and antioxidants, it’s also an important host plant for swallowtail butterflies. (Don’t pick off caterpillars with yellow, black, and white stripes if you see them on your dill or parsley plants!)
You can delay the plant going to seed for a bit by harvesting leaves frequently, covering the garden with shade cloth on warm days, and pinching off early flower heads with your fingers. Just know that dill plants will eventually bolt no matter what you do. It’s not something to cause despair even if you, too, love fresh dill leaves. There are two very good reasons to celebrate dill flowers.
First of all, lots of beneficial insects will be delighted by these flowers, including ladybugs, tachinid flies, lacewings, and hoverflies—all “good” bugs that help to control aphids. Secondly, each little flower head can produce dozens of seeds. And seeds are what we’re her for today.
WHEN ARE DILL SEEDS READY FOR HARVEST?
Dill seeds are typically ready to harvest in early summer in warmer climates and late summer in cooler climates.
That’s because dill thrives in cool weather. Plants growing in the spring will become stressed as soon as the weather warms with the arrival of summer. Rising temps and lengthening days are their signals that the end of the growing season has arrived and they need to put all their energy toward making seeds for next year.
It does take plants a while to produce seeds. With that in mind, let’s look at the three stages of dill seed production so you have a better idea of when your seeds are ready to harvest.
Stage 1: Dill flowers
Dill plants will form tall flower stalks when they’ve decided their time in your garden is coming to an end. These stalks will open to reveal beautiful umbel-shaped clusters of yellow flowers. Leave these flowers be if you’d like to collect seeds later. Not only do they need to spend more time on the plant before they’ll produce seeds, they’ll also attract all kind of beneficial insects to your vegetable garden.
Stage 2: Green seed pods
Once the flowers have been open for about a week or two, they’ll begin to close up as the plant moves into the green seed stage. Each yellow flower will now become one lime green seed pod. These pods need more time on the plant before they’re ready for harvest. They’re still literally too green to be of much use.
Stage 3: Brown seed pods
The green seed pods will, over the course of the next week or two, fade to a light beige color and then (finally!) turn brown. You might notice that seed pods are at different stages of drying out even within the same little cluster.
Dill seeds are ready for harvest when they’re brown and completely dried on the plant. (Trust me, you’ll want to harvest them at this stage, or you’ll have a ton of volunteer dill plants in your garden next spring.)
WHAT MATERIALS DO YOU NEED TO HARVEST & SAVE DILL SEEDS?
We’re not doing anything complicated here. You only need a couple simple supplies, including:
- A clean pair of garden scissors or pruners (wipe the blades down with some rubbing alcohol before harvesting)
- A paper bag for collecting dried seed heads
- An airtight container for longer-term storage
Now, let’s look at the simple step by step to harvest your own dill seeds.
3 EASY STEPS TO HARVEST DILL SEEDS
The best time to harvest dill seeds from the garden is a nice, sunny day when the leaves and seed heads are dry. If you’ve got kids, this is a great summer activity to get them involved in the garden (and their little fingers are often better at removing seeds from the dried seed heads in step three!).
Follow these three easy steps to gather hundreds of dill seeds.
Step 1: Cut the seed heads
Double-check that dill seeds are ready for harvest by pinching a couple between your fingernails. If they feel soft instead of hard, they’re still retaining some water and need more time to dry out. If they’re ready, cut the stem a couple inches below the dried flower head with a clean pair of scissors or pruners.
Step 2: Place seed heads in a paper bag
The easiest way to collect the seeds without making a mess is to place the seed heads upside down in a small paper bag to dry a little bit more. Keep this bag in a cool, dry area of your home for a week or two.
Step 3: Separate dill seeds
After a week or two, shake the bag to knock dill seeds loose. You might need to manually remove the rest of the seeds from the seed heads. The umbels turn inward as they dry, so it’s super easy to bunch the seeds together between your fingers and rub them loose. Discard the stems.
HOW TO STORE DILL SEEDS FOR LATER USE
Dill seeds can be saved for the next growing season in the paper bag you collected them in or inside a little seed saving envelope. For long-term storage, keep seeds inside an air-tight container. Label your storage container with the seed type and date of harvest. Then, place the seeds in a dry, dark place. Dill seeds can be saved for up to 4 years before their germination rates decline.
If you plan to bring these dill seeds in your kitchen, use a funnel to pour them into a jar or cleaned-out spice shaker and store them in your spice cabinet alongside your favorite dried herbs and seasonings.
HOW TO USE & ENJOY DILL SEEDS
Now that you have a stockpile of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dill seeds (probably more than you’ll plant in your garden next year), here are my favorite ideas for using them up.
Use dried seeds as a seasoning
These flavorful seeds can be ground up with a mortar and pestle or used whole for a nice crunch; to really enhance their flavor, quickly toast them in a dry pan. Add them to vinaigrettes, soups, sauces, salads, and potato salads. You can even make your own dill pickles.
Grow dill microgreens
There’s no better way to use up a large harvest of seeds than to grow your own microgreens indoors. All you have to do is fill a microgreens tray (or any long, shallow tray with drainage holes in the bottom) with moistened seed starting mix. Scatter dill seeds over the soil, press them down with your hand, and spray the top with water. Keep the tray damp and set it in a bright spot or under grow lights. Harvest dill microgreens as soon as you see the first little fern-like leaves appear. This leaf harvest may be tiny, but it’ll have the distinct flavor of leaves from mature plants.
Share dill seeds with friends
Divvy up your seeds into seed envelopes and hand them out to friends, family, and neighbors. You could even ask your local gardening community to do a seed swap—it’s a great way to try different dill varieties or get free seeds for something entirely new but well-suited to your area.
Saving your own seeds is a fun and economical way to supply your garden with plants for the future. But when the seeds are edible like dill seeds, it also opens up new flavor possibilities in the kitchen and opportunities to share the spoils of your garden with others.
Let us know how saving your own dill seeds goes in the comments below. Got gardening questions? We’re happy to answer them!