It is easy to talk about saving seeds and what a good thing it is to do. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. You will be able to read it when it becomes available in late January/early February 2015. I’ve been working on it all year and have now submitted it to New Society Publishers. In the coming months it will be going through the editing process and everything else involved in bringing a book to fruition. In Seed Libraries I give some tips about saving seeds, but it is not about the ins and outs of seed saving. Rather, it is about how to establish a community seed saving project and keep it going.
I thought I’d give you a preview of the photos that will appear on one of the eight color pages in my new book. You can read all you want about when to harvest the seeds, but when it comes right down to physically doing that, I’m sure you will have some questions. When saving seeds you need a way to separate the seeds from the chaff and you can do that using seed screens. As you will see, there are seed screen options to fit all budgets. The first photo shows my collection of colanders and strainers. You probably have these items in your kitchen already. When I visit yard sales I keep an eye out for ones that might have different size holes than what I already have. These work great and the price is right. However, the holes are not always the size I want to work with.
These two wood-framed screens were made with scrap wood and hardware cloth. The smaller one has ¼” holes and the larger one has ½” holes. The smaller one is borrowed from a friend. I made the larger one to facilitate working with beans and cowpeas. I can thresh the beans from the dried pods in an old pillowcase by hitting it with a piece of old broom handle. Everything gets poured out of the pillowcase onto the screen. The wood sides keep things contained so I don’t have pods and beans all over the place. When we moved to our five acre farm thirty years ago, I found an old screen like this in a shed. I made my new one to the same dimensions. I added the wooden blocks in the corners to strengthen the frame and to keep seeds from getting caught in the corners, and made a box to fit under the screen frame to catch the seeds.
With half-inch holes, some chaff comes through with the beans. Chaff that is smaller than the seeds can be quickly dispelled by pouring everything through a screen that is slightly smaller than the seed, holding the seed back and letting the chaff and dust through. I usually use this system for cowpeas and you would think that the quarter-inch screen would do that job for me, however I need something just a little smaller. Some of the cowpeas pass through the quarter-inch spaces. If I was trying to sort the seeds to save the largest, that would be an advantage.
Thanks to my friend, Molly, I discovered the 4-in-one sieves that are available at Indian grocery stores. There is one stainless steel frame that is 8 ½” in diameter and four interchangeable screens—the holes in the largest are 1/8”. My interest in these screens is in working with the small seeds. Currently I have kale seeds to thresh with these screens. The screens are lightweight, don’t take up much space, and have the size holes that I want. For home use, this does well and should last a good while, but it is not going to stand up to the abuse that the screens in the first two photos will. At a cost of less than $15, these screens are a good deal.
By contrast, here is a professional set of eight screens that will take much handling for years to come. With eight different sized holes, you could surely find the size you needed. The price for these screens is about $190. With the other options available, you would have to be a serious seed saver to invest in something like this. Or maybe you just have more money than I do. These screens would be good for farms with many different people handling them and lots of seeds to thresh.
My last photo is not in the book. It shows threshed kale seed put through the small yellow plastic strainer, with the pods left behind in the strainer. It works just fine! I acquired this strainer when my mother was going through her cupboard to give me a few things. I asked about the strainer and she said she didn’t think I would want it because it was plastic. She was right—I avoid plastic in my kitchen, but this strainer stays with my seed saving supplies. I like it because the holes are small rectangles, rather than circles. If you are a seed saver, take a look around your kitchen before you spend money on seed cleaning screens. What you need might already be there—at least to get you started.