Just two years ago I thought collecting seeds in my garden was the easiest thing in the world. I could wait until November and collect fully intact Purple Coneflower seed heads. The only obstacles I encountered where the occasional humans who dug out plants or pulled the cones from my plants. I could wait until the cone had tuned black and some of the stem started to blacken and die before I cut off the heads and saved them for trades or for sowing back into the garden.
This year the situation has been complicated by the arrival of birds like the American Goldfinch in my garden. Last year I spotted them for the first time in my garden eating some sunflower seeds. This year I decided to plant extra sunflowers to see if they would return-they did. Being able to introduce this bird to my family and visitors to my garden has been worth every penny I paid for the seeds.
One day I found my mother sitting in her car across the street from the house staring at the wall of sunflowers that grow along the fence. When I walked up to the car and tapped on the window to ask her if she was OK she informed me she had been sitting out there for an hour counting the yellow birds she'd never seen before.
As my tiny urban garden evolves and more critters find their way into it to take advantage of plants that set fruit or seeds I can see that I will have to adapt to them in order to coexist peacefully. When I collect Purple Coneflower seeds will have to change because I can tell already that leaving them on the stems and waiting for the plant to die down will not be working this year. You see, the American Goldfinches are even better at noticing ripe seed heads in the garden than I am. Not content with dozens of sunflowers to choose from they have been picking at the Coneflower heads that have blackened on the stem. Besides the change in color I now know that the seed heads are ripe (or close to it) when the birds have started to snack on them.