Experiments in small batch onion seed cleaning

We grow scallions, scads, succession planting for continuous harvest throughout the season. Fresh scallions are amazing, delicious, they are easy to use, in everything. So we grow a lot. Evergreen Hardy has become a favorite for both flavor and vigor, and we’ve been saving seed every other (ish) year. We haven’t yet invested in seed sieves and as a result we’re still working on a way to adequately and (time) efficiently clean our onion seed.

Yesterday morning we seeded over 5000 alliums (!) and feeling inspired, we pulled out the paper bag of Evergreen Hardy seed heads that we collected last fall and which have been lurking in the mudroom for the past 5 months. Seed saving references mention winnowing with water (eep!), so we gave it a try. Dunking your carefully tended, harvested and dried seed in a jar of water – even just for a few seconds – feels a bit like steeking a sweater. Not for the faint of heart. (deep breath)

Jerm couldn’t watch.

I broke the flowers off the stems and tossed everything around pretty vigorously in order to make sure the seed was good and out of the flowers. Then, handful at a time, I dropped the seed and chaff into a jar and topped it off with water. The chaffy nonsense floated to the the top along with junky seed and the good seed when right to the bottom. I used a chopstick to stir this around a bit. Decanting a few times left me with a bunch of beautiful seed at the bottom of the jar which I immediately spread out to dry. Quick. Everything expeditiously.Jeremy opted for dry winnowing. Using the two sieves we have (a pasta colander and a smaller, mesh strainer) he skimmed off the big chaff and removed the smaller dusty bits. We use a box fan for winnowing kale, beans and corn – but the onion seed requires a more gentle air current, and one can only do the “blowing birthday candles out” seed winnowing technique for so long before becoming too light headed to continue. So we made a cleaning tool that friends at Meadowlark Hearth introduced us to. A sheet of fabric wrapped around a frame. With this we were able to tap the onion seed away from the stems – real slick! This frame is a great way to clean round seed like brassicas and beets, and we are happy to report: it works well for onions too.

Here’s a short video of 1000 onion seeds bouncing on a bedsheet, accompanied by Kid Koala.Both methods seem to yield equally clean seed. Water-winnowing went faster. Dry winnowing was less stressful. We’ve kept seed from these two methods separate and we’ll try them out in side-by-side plantings to compare germination rates over time.

And a special note for all our fellow Spearfish Seed Enthusiasts: next Sunday (3/11)  is the Spearfish Seed Swap from 1:30-4:30 at the Spearfish Public Library. Come, bring your seeds and your friends, bring home your friends’ seeds!  We’re celebrating FIVE years! Even if you don’t have seeds to swap, come anyway, join with friends and neighbors for an afternoon of gardening camaraderie!

 

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2 thoughts on “Experiments in small batch onion seed cleaning

  1. Do you put those onion seeds on Everything Bagels? And did you try speeding up the record from 33 to 45 to sort the seed faster? So nice! Outstanding photos.

    • TJP! BLISS!! You can’t have an everything bagel without them. Also – Brilliant with the record speed. YES. And this is why we need you to visit more frequently. Sending big love to you. Radish misses you desperately. We do too.

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