February 24, 2021

Seed Saving Tips – Part 3, by St. Funogas

(Continued from Part 3. This concludes the article.)

Some seeds such as zinnias weigh as much as the chaff so I don’t even try to separate the two. Other seeds are both super tiny and very lightweight, such as chamomile, so these also are not worth trying to separate. In Photo 14, some of the actual seeds are circled in yellow while many more are hidden beneath the chaff. When I plant zinnias, I direct sow by tossing out handfuls and lightly raking them in.

PHOTO 14 – Zinnias (Mixed with Chaff)

Photo 15 demonstrates how the seed board works. As mentioned above, different types of cloth are used with coarser piles (B) depending on the type of seed it’s being used for. This works best for round seeds such as radish and turnips, and those with a slick outer coat. These slide easily down the sloped board while the chaff gets caught in the fibers of the pile. For those gardeners without screens, the rubbed seed heads can be swished in a bowl (A) leaving most of the seeds on the bottom and the chaff on top. The chaff is removed from the bowl with the fingertips and discarded while the seeds and remaining smaller chaff are placed near the top of the sloped board (C). The board is then drummed with the fingers and the angle of the board adjusted to a steeper or shallower angle as you see how well the seeds are moving away from the chaff (D).

PHOTO 15 – Seed Board

Fortunately, some seeds which require very little work to process before packaging. Four o’clocks (16A & B) have a small papery husk that usually falls off as the seed is being collected or is easily blown away from the heavy seeds before packaging. Sunflowers and many others also require very little work to process. Peanuts (16C) merely need the dirt brushed off, or not, before putting the unshelled seeds into envelopes or small paper bags.

PHOTO 16 – Four o’clock Peanuts Sorghum

Sorghum (16D) is another seed I don’t worry about cleaning perfectly. The seeds are in large heads at the top of the plant and easily removed by pulling on the heads with your thumb and index finger. The seeds are relatively large and heavy and what little chaff remains attached won’t cause problems when packaged or when planting. I should note here that some seeds are planted in small amounts just to renew the seed if you don’t plant them en masse every year. The sorghum I plant is a very good syrup variety which I collected at a sorghum festival. A large press, which I currently lack, is needed to extract the juice from the stalks so I plant a little of this seed every year just to keep it fresh until the time when I do have a juice-extraction method to make my own sorghum syrup.

In the last example of seed cleaning, seeds like marigolds (Photo 17) are too light to separate easily from the chaff so they are best cleaned by simply grabbing the ends and pulling them out of the cupped seed heads. What small amount of detritus that hitches a ride along with the seeds is not enough to lose sleep over.

PHOTO 17 – Marigolds

Packaging Seeds

I used to package seed in coin envelopes available from Amazon in many sizes and colors. They were more expensive than I wanted to pay for the assortment of sizes which I needed but for those of you who belong to the landed aristocracy or are hell-bent on spending your children’s inheritance, I recommend them. I currently make my seed envelopes from scratch paper which has writing on one side. For the repurposing crowd, this is your ticket.

I make three sizes of envelopes, each from a full sheet of paper. A full sheet folded in half makes a large envelope. A full sheet cut into halves before folding makes two medium envelopes, and a full sheet cut into quarters makes four small envelopes (Photo 18).

PHOTO – 18 Scratch Paper Cut to Size

Each sheet is folded in half and glue applied to two sides while the top remains open as shown in Photo 19.

PHOTO 19 – Gluing Envelopes

Once the glued envelopes have dried they should be written on while they are still flat and empty. I write the name of the plant, and sometimes the approximate quantity of seeds, and “For 2021” so I know they are to be planted in 2021, and not that I harvested them in 2021. It also helps me know whether the seeds are fresh enough to plant or if I should donate them to a museum of antiquities.

In Photo 20A, after the seeds are put into the envelope, I run a bead of glue along the inside top of the envelope, then pull the two corners apart (B) so the glue contacts both sides. This makes the flattest closure possible and is further sealed by pushing down in a side-to-side motion with the fingers (C). Occasionally if the envelope is slightly overfilled, the seam will open back up so watch for that and press it together again until the glue dries just a little more. The finished, filled envelope is now sealed on all sides so no seeds can escape and no insects can enter, no matter how small (D).

PHOTO 20 – Filling Envelopes

A funnel can be used to fill the envelopes and is most useful on small seeds. Don’t try to balance the funnel in the envelope, grab ahold of the funnel stem through the envelope as in photo 21A. If I open a packet and don’t use all the seeds, I cut the corner off to indicate it’s been opened and then glue it shut again (21B). If I am going to be using the rest of the seeds in a day or so, I merely fold the top over.

PHOTO 21 – Funnel and Re-closing Envelopes

Photo 22 shows completed and filled envelopes in large, medium, and small.

PHOTO 22 – Filled Envelopes

Since many of the seed company envelopes are re-sealable, I also save those and refill them with my own seeds so I have the packet information and photo readily available (Photo 23).

PHOTO 23 – Reusing Envelopes

And last but not least, I make up mixed flower packets to give to friends and relatives who always appreciate them (Photo 24).

PHOTO 24 – Mixed Flower Seeds

Once I’ve gone to all the trouble of collecting, processing, and packaging my own seeds, the weevils, meal moths, and other critters would be putting me out of business in a hurry if I didn’t store my seeds in a gasketed, locking tote in a cool room (Photo 25). As previously mentioned, ammo cans, refrigerators and other various containers also work well.

PHOTO 25 – Seed Storage Container

Too Many Seeds!

As all experienced seed savers know, once you start saving seeds, you’ll eventually end up with way too many, from both this year and the ones you’ve been hanging on to since the Reagan administration. There are at least two ways to help mitigate this situation. First, share your seeds with others. Most new gardeners will welcome all the free seeds they can get. Experienced gardeners also enjoy trading seeds and cuttings amongst themselves.

Secondly, do an internet search to find out which of your seeds are edible. I always end up with what appears to be an overabundance of celosia seeds. It’s a beautiful ornamental and, being an amaranthus relative, the seeds are high in protein similar to the amaranthus I grow as a grain. I use them in my rice cooker mix as well as pop them as an interesting snack. I only recently found out that sorghum also makes interesting “popcorn” and any which don’t pop are chewable, unlike popcorn. When topped with butter or candied with honey or molasses, they make an excellent snack and provide roughage to the diet. Since it’s probably the easiest and most prolific grain to grow in my location, where a small area will easily produce 50 lbs/year, I should expand my production to grow more.

Not many plants produce two crops at the same time, both syrup and grain in the case of sorghum. As for cucurbits, whenever I eat squash or pumpkins I scoop out the seeds, clean them, and put them in the freezer until I have enough to bake as a snack after soaking in saltwater. When you end up with too many older packaged squash seeds, those too can be roasted. At 35 grams of protein per cup, I don’t know of another grain or seed which has more protein than pumpkin/squash seeds. So, do some research and find out which of your seeds are edible.

Go Forth and Multiply

Of course, the best seeds to plant are heritage varieties, those which have been around since Methuselah was a kid playing in the dirt with his toy chariots. These have not been crossbred anytime in recent history and will reliably produce the same varieties year after year when saved and planted in the garden.

I hope these thoughts, techniques, and photos have stirred some ideas in the imaginations of newcomers to seed saving. Hopefully, in the comments section, the old-time gardeners can share their ideas and methods with the rest of us so we can all benefit from the shared knowledge that makes SurvivalBlog such a wonderful part of our lives.

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