Put away the soap and the sponges! That's not what we mean by cleaning seeds. Nope, I’m going to walk you through the process of removing seeds from the chaff. What exactly is chaff? It’s pretty much everything leftover from a flower or fruit that is not the seed.
There are two categories of seeds that need to be processed: wet and dry. Wet seeds include a lot of vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumber, and melons. I’ll cover that topic on another day. This article is going to focus on dry seed processing, specifically flowers.
Dried petals, stems, and seed pods, while they don’t hurt the seeds in any way, are often removed to aid the seed saving process. The chaff material can harbor pests, moisture, bacteria, and several other hidden annoyances that make this step worth doing. Not to mention that if you are anything like me, you want your seeds to be as compact as possible. Seeds are small. Chaff is not. Taking time to clean your seeds will help you keep things nice and tidy…Okay, I can’t claim to be tidy, but this step does help contain my seed collection.
Pillowcase/Cloth Sack Threshing
Put all the dried stems inside a breathable sack and bang it against a hard surface to break open the seed pods. Some plants need more coaxing than others. I often will put dried stems of amaranth in a paper bag and shake them around. The tiny seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag when ripe. This is a great method for the kids to try!
Place a cutting board on a larger rimmed baking sheet. Sandwich the pods between them and crush gently. The seeds will fall freely. Be careful not to use too much force, or you can potentially damage the seeds. This is especially true if your seeds aren’t quite dry. As seeds dry, they develop a hard, protective coating. Young, green seeds are easily damaged.
Screen your Seeds
Seeds are heavier than chaff. This is why sifting seeds works so well. By simply placing all the material in a colander and shaking it around, you’ll be able to remove a lot of unwanted material in a snap. The size of the screen needed to do a good job really depends on the size of the seed. If your kitchen sieve isn’t working, you can buy or DIY a set of graduated mesh screens for this task.
Winnow with the wind
People have been using the wind for thousands of years to clean their seeds. Simply put, as the wind blows over seed and chaff, the lightweight chaff will blow away, leaving the heavier seeds behind. I’ve successfully done this with my breath, a fan on low speed, or even stood outside and used the gentle breeze to separate my seeds. It’s a very satisfying process.
I really hope you give seed saving a try this year. You'll be amazed at how a few seeds planted in the earth will result in more seeds than you could ever want for your garden. Sharing seeds is one of my absolute favorite ways to spread joy in this world. They may be small, but every seed is a tiny miracle waiting to happen.
Need more help? Schedule a Garden Consult, and I'll walk you through the whole process.