Category Archives: Drying

Saving Purslane Seed

In the last 3 years, Golden Purslane has become an on farm favorite salad green. It has a juicy refreshing taste with a sour edge that livens up a salad.

Last year we also grew a seed crop.

1 Purslane

Golden Purslane produces small yellow flowers that only last a short time. (I have yet to catch them in picture.) They then form a small green fruit in the center of the leaves. After a bit you can peel off the cap of this fruit to find some small black seed.

I was told that this is the perfect time to pull purslane plants for seed. So we did.

2 Harvesting Purslane

We cut the whole plants and packed them into bins to bring them back to the  barn.

3 Purslane bins

The succulent plants were still juicy and delicious at this point.

4 Post Harvest Purslane

We spread the plants out in a single layer on a tarp and added a few fans for ventilation.

5 Purslane Seeds Maturing

Over the next month the fruit dried up and opened to reveal thousands of small shiny black seeds.

6 Purslane Wilting

The plants stayed succulent for quite a while. After 4-5 weeks the stems started to shrivel. Around that time most of the fruit had opened.

7 Purslane Bits

We took the plants outside and shook them over a big tarp. The seed easily shattered. We tossed the green plants aside and collected the dried chaff and seeds.

8 Screening Purslane Seeds

At this point we proceeded as normal to clean the seed with screens and fans. These plants were full of seed! (Such as we did with this Brassica seed.)

Thanks to Frank Morton and Tom Stearns who told me I should pull these plants. They were right.


Visiting Greta’s Organic Gardens

This post is a little late coming …

On August 25th, 2010, the Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers Network (ECOSGN) hosted a field trip to Greta’s Organic Gardens in Ottawa, Ontario. The visit was broken up into

  • A little about Greta,
  • A field walk,
  • A tomato taste test,
  • A peek inside Greta’s seed workshop, and
  • A seed cleaning demonstration.

A Little Bit About Greta

Greta Kryger is a staple at most Seedy Saturdays and Sundays across Quebec and Ontario. Her seeds are also available through her on-line seed catalogue. Greta grows all her own tomato, pepper, eggplant, and melon seed in addition to as many other species as she can fit in to her gardens.

Greta’s Organic Gardens began as a market garden in 1991. She began saving seeds and  selling at the Ottawa and Toronto Seedy Saturdays in 1992-1993. In the late nineties, she switched from market gardening to 100% seed production. Her production has been certified organic since 2003.

Greta has also been on the ECOSGN steering committee since its first meeting in March 2008.

Field Walk

The morning began with a walk across Greta’s fields.

A few cucurbit species on black geotextile (for weed control).


Some of Greta’s seed crops are also grown in tunnels. This adds heat and isolates plants from  other pollen sources.

These guys make good use of any seed cleaning byproducts (i.e squash and tomato pulp).

Tomato Taste Test

Greta is known for her huge selection of tomatoes. With a couple of volunteers, Greta set up 30 or so sampling stations of different tomatoes.

Tasters rated each tomato from 1 to 5 on different aspects such as taste and  appearance.

A Peek Into Greta’s Seed Workshop/Greenhouse

This greenhouse is Greta’s seed wonderland with an aquatic garden and heat loving plants.

The controlled climate let’s Greta collect seed from many plants that might not set much seed in our climate.

In one corner of the greenhouse, tomatoes are fermenting.

Tomato seeds are placed on screens (these are actually pepper seeds.)

Then stacked to dry.

Greta also brings seed crops into the greenhouse to dry out of the rain.

Some seed crops are hung in pillow cases to dry.

Seed Cleaning Demonstration

Greta uses a set of seed screens (also notice the colander collection in the upper left corner) to remove most of the chaff from her seeds. The final cleaning of most crops is done with this air column:

Dirty seeds go in the top right pipe. Lighter material (dirt, dust, chaff) is blown out the top of the long pipe. Heavier material (seeds and maybe stones) are collected from the bottom of the pipe.

The air column is powered by a bathroom fan with a dimmer switch.

(Compare this with Patrice Fortier’s air column.)

Thanks Greta for a great farm tour and a great farm lunch – the turkey meat balls were especially good!

ECOSGN is currently planning more great seedy events – more details soon …

Cleaning Lettuce Seed

Lettuce is the other seeed crop that took me years to learn how to clean well (radishes being the first).

The basics are like other dry seeded crops (thresh, screen and winnow ad nauseam) but to do a good job I’ve had to pay a lot of attention to the threshing and final screening.

(If you want to read more about growing lettuce for seed : growing lettuce seed under field tunnels  and growing out crossed-up lettuce seed)

Harvesting Lettuce Seed

I keep a regular eye on the lettuce plants to catch them as they flower.

After flowering, the lettuce blooms close up.

A couple of weeks later, the flowers open again to reveal little fluffies at the end of mature seed (kind of like dandelions).

Since the seed doesn’t all mature at once, some folks walk their lettuce patch every couple days and shake the plants into bins or paper backets to collect the seed. I’ve tried this approach but don’t have the time to handle the plants this regularly.

Instead, when about 1/2 the flowers are mature, I harvest the whole plant.

I cut the plants above the roots (keeping dirt in the garden!), pile them in bins, and bring them back to the barn.

Drying Lettuce Seed Plants

I spread the lettuce plants out on tarps with a fan blowing air over them. I rotate the plants at least once a day so that the leaves dry down rather than rot.

If I have a little lots, I dry them upside down in a bucket.

The lettuce plants usually dry for 1-2 months before I process the seed. By this time the plants are completely dry and most of the seed has matured.

Threshing Lettuce Seed

Whereas we now stomp most seed crops to thresh them, we put on kid gloves to handle lettuce.

We rub the plants vigorously between our hands so the flowers fall apart dropping the seed and fluff.

This leaves the stems bare. I try not to break many stem pieces into the mix as they can be tough to later extract.

Screening Lettuce Seed (First Time)

I usually skip the 1/2″ screen and move right to the 1/4″ screen.

I separate the seed and chaff into the bin below and leave any stem on the screen. This is where cleaning lettuce seed gets tricky because the chaff is similar in weight to the seed and the fluff doesn’t seem to want to let go.

At this point I turn to more specialized equipment.

Screening Lettuce Seed (SeconD Time)

This is my favorite colander. The size of the holes are perfect for little oblong seeds (such as lettuce).

I rub the chaff-seed mix through.

This extracts the coarse material. I use this screen a few times and wind up with seed and a bit of fluff.

Winnowing Lettuce Seed

At this point I winnow delicately. If the seed is still dirty. I winnow again a bit more aggressively and perhaps run the seed through my colander another time.

One of the biggest tricks I’ve learned is to not try to save every last seed. When I accept losing a bit of seed, I can get the remaining seed much cleaner.

This is about as clean as I can get most lots with screens and fans. I pick out some of the remaining bits but have to live with the rest.

I apologize for the delay in getting this post up (Brian Creelman has been asking me to post about lettuce for nearly a year.)

Some of the delay is because I’m not much of a lettuce seed man – I’ve often had trouble getting lettuce seed crops to maturity and even though I’ve been cleaning lettuce seed 10 years, I still can’t get it as clean as most other seed. I’m currently looking into some seed screens from Hoffman Manufacturing. If these work out maybe I’ll become a lettuce seed cleaning maniac. I’ll keep you posted!

The rest of the delay is that I’ve been conference and workshop hopping this past month and any my spare time has been going into our new website. I’ll tell you guys more about all that soon …

10 Steps For Getting Seed As Clean As Possible

In my early seed-saving days, I’d thresh and I’d winnow but I just couldn’t get my seeds as clean as when those that came from a seed packet.

Over the next dozen years, meeting experienced seed growers, reading piles of seed production books,  and attending whatever seed workshops I could find; I gleaned many pearls of wisdom that I then fine-tuned cleaning hundreds, if not thousands, of seed lots.

Here are the steps and lessons that have had the biggest impact in my seed saving career:

10 Steps For Getting Seed As Clean As Possible

  1. Make sure plant material is dry, dry, dry before threshing. In Eastern Canada, it can be hard to get a crop to dry in the field. Harvest whole plants when they are 3/4 dry. Spread them on tarps in a greenhouse with fans to increase ventilation and turn them periodically to ensure even drying.
  2. Leave dirt in the field. Leave dirty plant roots in the field when you harvest seed crops. It is much easier to not add dirt to your seed than to remove it later.
  3. Clean seeds on a dry day. Even if your seed crops are very dry, ambient humidity on an overcast or rainy will make seeds stick to the chaff.
  4. Thresh aggressively if seeds don’t easily shatter. Use boots, sticks,  rakes, tractors, and trucks to shatter seeds from pods.
  5. Alternate screening and winnowing to blow away the light chaff and separate plant material into 2 groups:
    • Threshed seed and small bits of stem, pods, and rocks.
    • Larger plant material that contains unthreshed seed.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with larger plant material until you only have bins of threshed seed with small bits of stem, pods, and rocks that are the same size and weight.
  7. Winnow threshed seed aggressively to remove other material of similar size and weight.
  8. Screen seed carefully. Seed usually falls through first. Stop screening when most of the seed has fallen through.
  9. Be willing to sacrifice seed as you repeat steps 7 and 8. If you focus on getting seed clean rather than on saving every last seed, you can get seed a lot cleaner.
  10. Remove any remaining unwanted elements by hand. I usually spread seeds on a baking tray and do a final triage to remove broken and damaged seed, and any other remaining bits.

Seed saving examples

You can see all these principles in action in these two posts:

And in the next couple of posts I’ll demonstrate these principles for two crops that used to really give me a headache: radishes and lettuce.

Are there any tricks or lessons that really improved your seed saving?

Cleaning Brassica Seeds

With snowy times upon us; and my regular work hours tossed around by a combination of families, friends, holiday seasons, and cross-country skiing; and putting together our 2011 seed catalog; I’ve had a bit of trouble scheduling in some computer time to write a new post. I thought it might be easiest to look back to the growing season and wrap up 2010 with a post about cleaning brassica seeds –  our biggest seed crop both in area grown and amount  harvested.

Cleaning dry seeded crops (like brassicas) usually consists of three activities:

  • Threshing
  • Screening
  • Winnowing

Let’s start off where we left when we last talked about brassicas

with piles of plants laid out on tarps in the barn. The plants stayed there a few weeks continuing to dry and mature.

In September, on a sunny Friday around 3 p.m. when we ran out of other things to do (i.e. gave up on that week’s to-do list) we put on our gloves and got


There are different machines that can be used to thresh seeds. However we thresh by hand.

We all stand around and rub the seeds off of the stems into Rubbermaid bins. Processed plants go into a wheelbarrow and then to the compost.

Do notice everyone is wearing gloves – saving seeds is asking for small (and not so small) cuts and splinters.

We always thresh on a tarp to catch the seeds that shoot everywhere. We empty the tarps in the Rubbermaid bins of chaff and seed.


Next we separate the big pieces of chaff from the small pieces of chaff, seeds, and dust …

by pouring the contents of one Rubbermaid onto a screen placed over another Rubbermaid. We shake the screen to let the seed fall through and then transfer the big bits to another bin destined for the compost.

We repeat the process with a smaller screen.

Gradually we remove most of the chaff. We transfer the large bin into a small container and proceed to


In this step, we clean the heavy seeds by blowing out lighter material.

Two fans each with 3 speeds give us a number of different wind speed variations. We start on a low setting and if it isn’t strong enough, we try again with a higher speed.

Always try to pour an equal steady stream in front of the fans.

We winnow over multiple bins on a tarp in case the fan blows a bit too hard and the seeds go flying. We also like to see what is being removed from the seed lot.

We alternate screening and winnowing multiple times to get the seeds as clean as possible.

We spread the clean seed  on trays or tarps to let it dry a week or two, before one last winnowing and then pack the seeds up.


Speaking of brassicas, I recently read a blog post at subsistence pattern about winter gardening in low tunnels in Northern Idaho with great pictures of brassicas and other hardy crops.

And speaking of winter growing, the veggie patch re-imagined has a series of posts on overwintering hot peppers indoors.

I’ll probably post shortly about cleaning beans.

Happy New Year!

Hope Seeds

At the end of October,  on our way back from the Organic Seed Symposium in Moncton, New Brunswick, Greta Kryger and I stopped at Hope Seeds to visit Andrea Berry.

In 2004 Andrea Berry became the owner of Hope Seeds, which had been in operation since 1993. Currently situated in Knowlesville, New Brunswick, Andrea is actually in the process of moving the Hope Seeds farm to Belleisle, Nova Scotia.

Hope Seeds has an on-line catalogue that offers both small seed packs but also larger formats for farmers and serious gardeners. Their seed packs are also available on seed racks in select locations. In addition to growing a lot of her own seed, Andrea has developed a network of seed growers who grow seed for her.

So let’s get a tour through Hope Seeds.

Andrea Berry bundled up on an October evening in her Zone 3b fields. Most of the crops have already been harvested.

What is left in the field is mostly destined for the kitchen.

In the tunnel, we see the vestiges of summer crops to the left and pumpkins waiting to be scalped on the right. (Scalping seed is a word Andrea taught me. It refers to extracting the seed from the bulk of the fruit and plant material. After scalping, all you need to do is get the small bits out of the seed lot.)


Well labeled bean plants drying upside down in the tunnel.

We then moved indoors to visit Andrea’s seed workshop.

Bagged garlic bulbils on stems wait to be replanted.

Bagged seed lots labeled with

  • Name (Ring of Fire)
  • Harvest Date – Sept. 22 (h0922)
  • Scalping Date – Oct. 1 (s1001)
  • Cleaning Date – Oct. 3 (c1003)

And what about those clothespins?

Well, those clip on to the drying racks above the wood stove. Andrea cautioned that this kind of setup can get too hot for seeds and that she’s had to learn how to manage the temperature to avoid damaging seeds.

And the last part of the tour

the germination chamber.

It was great to catch up with Andrea and to finally see her seed installations (though now I will have to go and visit her new site when it’s set up!)

After leaving Andrea, on our way back to Montreal, Greta and I also visited la Société des Plantes in Kamouraska. I’ll share some of those pictures in the next post.