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!

 

of easy wind and downy flake, winter happenings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe get asked frequently about how winter is going, “what do you do in the winter?” It seems as though a small-scale farmer in the winter, in South Dakota, is a strange, curious specimen – as though we were in an elusive club with Santa and rodeo clowns.  We’d like to share with you how we’re spending our time these days, our winter to-do list.

1. Reflection and review: taxes, review finances and budgets, reflect on our previous growing seasons, what techniques worked well, what didn’t.

2. Planning: reevaluating and restructuring our crop rotation plan, plotting the planting calendar, seed inventory and selection, figuring out the cover crop schedule, selecting fruit trees, planning budgets, livestock and pasture management ruminations.

review and reflection

3. Reading: we’re both powering through a thick reading list this winter. Our public libraryand interlibrary loan are amazing resources.

4. Conferences and workshops: Winter (along with our much appreciated farm-sitters) gives us an opportunity to head off-farm to different conferences and classes to learn heaps and recharge. In November, we went down to New Mexico to reconnect with friends at the Quivira Coalition conference  (check out this presentation, Fred Kirschenmann on farming methods and thoughts from the past into the future, and this one too, Dorn Cox on Soil and Silicon).  In a couple weeks, Jeremy is headed to a seed production and breeding workshop lead, in part, by some of our favorite seed growers. Additionally, Trish is facilitating the Farm Beginnings course this year in Rapid City.

5.  Arts and crafts: sewing, knitting, woodworking projects, block prints, painting, spinning. Assorted and absurd indoor creative outlets.arts and crap3

6. Infrastructure design/build, tool maintenance, work on the greenhouse, vegetable wash area, day-dreaming plans for a farm stand and wood fired oven, planning a PV system (and lamenting SD solar incentives).solar

7. Restful time with friends and family. Pancake breakfasts, extreme snowshoeing, ardent board games, sending care packages, eating ice cream. Connecting with our inspiring farmer friends over bottles of wine, plotting chicken feed collectives and local food systems.

8. Cooking, baking, enjoying foods we put up last year. Exploring amazing lamb recipes.

9. Scheming: winter is planning time for Spearfish Bike Week, a seed swap (coming up here soonFeb 22nd), Pi Day and summer farm events. So much to look forward to. seed swap banner

10. Teaching Radish new tricks. Last winter, Radish dazzled us by learning a one-command multi-part trick, “How do you want your mocha this morning?” She’s now working on a pawkour routine (a la parkour). She’s got hellagood ninja inspiration.

saving seed: tomatillos

All our seed orders are in and now packages brimming with seed packets are arriving pert near everyday. Our table has been buried for quite some time now in a thick mantle of books, notes, calendars, charts. It’s seed season, our minds are racing with numbers, and our hearts are full of hope.

We’ve got seeds on the brain these days and are extra specially looking forward to the very first annual Spearfish Seed Swap in a couple weeks. Mark your calendar: Saturday Feb 22nd, 2:30-5PM at the public library.

To celebrate the occasion and help muster enthusiasm for the joy of seed saving, I’ve put together a few words on saving tomatillo seed.

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How to save tomatillo seed.

Pick out the very best looking tomatillos from your most healthy, strong, vigorous open-pollinated tomatillo plants. Open-pollinated varieties produce offspring that is true-to-type, versus hybrids where  the next generation may not exhibit the same characteristics as its parents.  We usually pick from 4-5 of the top tomatillo plants in order to help ensure some degree of genetic diversity. You’ll know the tomatillo is ripe, and the seeds are ready to collect, when the fruit has filled out the paper lantern wrapper and the paper begins to split/dry at the base.

Remove the wrappers. Cut up the fruit into wedges and pop them into a blender. And gently bbzZzzZzzzzz them up into a cheerful, bright green tomatillo slurry. The seeds are small and robust and won’t be damaged by the blade.saving tomtatillo seed_blender

Then pour this slurry into a tall container and add water. I would suggest using a clear glass or mason jar for this, so you can see what’s happening. Mix this up with a spoon or chop stick. The good, viable seed will sink down to the bottom of the container.saving tomtatillo seed_pouring

Pour off the floating green slurry and any floating seeds, adding water and pouring again until the water is clear and the seeds at the bottom are all that’s left. Then sieve out the seeds and lay them out evenly on a coffee filter or thin cloth.saving tomtatillo seed_drying

Let the seeds dry in a dark place, with good air circulation. Be sure to fuss around with them a bit while they are drying, mix them up so they don’t dry all stuck together. When they are all dry, seal them up in an air tight container and store them in a dark spot. You’ll know they are dry enough for storage when the seed breaks instead of bends under pressure. Just pick one out and bite it, if it’s bendy or soft, let them dry out more. Also, very important: label your seeds! Make sure you keep track of the seed variety and date grown.

Another very important: Share your seeds with neighbors and friends.

Easy! No stinky fermentation process, no winnowing. And just think of next summer’s gloriously refreshing salsa verde! (…and more salsa verde!)

veggiebeautyshot_tomatillo

Here are some seed saving resources we’ve found helpful and inspiring:
The Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide
John Navazio, The Organic Seed Grower
Suzanne Ashworth, Seed to Seed
Carol Deppe, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties
Organic Seed Production and Saving, the NOFA guidebook
Janisse Ray, The Seed Underground

See you at the Seed Swap!