How to Save Seeds From Dry-Seeded Crops


| 8/29/2014 11:50:00 AM


Tags: food independence, seed saving, New York, Matt Kelly,

harvested chervil

It’s now that point in the year when we live up to our name on the farm and all of our efforts come to fruition. Plants are going to seed. Time to harvest. Time to get all these little embryonic plants ready to put into packets for someone else’s garden.

Cleaning Dry-Seeded Vs. Wet-Seeded Crops

Seeds are different in this regard. Our process for harvesting and cleaning depends on whether the crop is dry-seeded or wet-seeded. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are examples of wet seeds; beans, lettuce, and basil are examples of dry. Chervil is an herb that successfully overwintered. Which means it's one of the very first to go to seed. Chervil is a dry-seeded crop and was allowed to dry in the field.

When harvested, we hung it in the mill to dry even further. Until the leaves and stems were brown and as close to feeling like ancient, fragile paper as possible. Then we threshed the chervil. There really is quite a bit of finesse involved with threshing. It’s not just whacking dead plants with a stick (or whiffle ball bat). If you bludgeon instead of thresh, you’ll create way more chaff than necessary. Which will just make cleaning harder.  Threshing the chervil with a stick is just as much a stroking motion as hitting. And listening is incredibly important: you can hear when more chaff than seed is falling on the tarp.

Cleaning Out the Chaff

When threshing was done, we gathered all of the detritus on the tarp to screen it. This is the first step to cleaning out the chaff. We have screens with openings of all different sizes and shapes because we have seeds of all different sizes and shapes. You want to find the screen that’s just right; that lets mostly seed fall through the openings. Until you’re familiar with every seed, it’s a bit of trial and error. Once screened, the cleaning continues with the use of fans. Two boxes fans, actually, one positioned right in front of the other on a table. Two fans are used because, in combination, the airflow is less turbulent and can be fine-tuned with greater precision.

clean chervilImmediately in front of and below the fans are two bins, side by side so that one bin is closer to the fans than the other. The detritus is poured through the airflow of the fans. Because seed and chaff are different weights, they separate in the breeze; mature seed is heavier and will fall closer to the fans, while chaff and immature seeds are lighter and will drift more. This means mature seed – the stuff we want – falls into the bin closest to the fans and the chaff blows into the second bin. Or off into the mill. Like screening, there’s a bit of experimenting to find the right strength of airflow to make this happen.




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