seed screens

Homeplace Earth

Education and Design for a Sustainable World

Seed Cleaning Screens

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.

” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”″ alt=”Homemade seed screens-BLOG” width=”300″ height=”243″ srcset=” 300w, 150w, 414w” sizes=”(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px” />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.

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.…

Seed Cleaning Screens

As I was completing my newest book, Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people, I photographed seed screens for one of the color pages in the book. This book, published by New Society Publishers, will be on the shelves in the bookstores about February 1. You can pre-order it now from New Society at a discount or buy it from me through my website when I get copies (no discount, but I will sign it). However, you don’t have to wait until then to see my seed screen photos. One photo is here showing the most basic of seed screens that you probably already have in your kitchen—regular colanders and strainers. You can see the other photos at Homeplace Earth.

Threshing Seeds

There is a lot to know about seed saving. You are familiar with the seeds of things like tomatoes and squash since you encounter the seeds when you eat them. You never see the seeds of carrots and kale when you eat those vegetables. Knowing when to harvest the seeds (sometimes the following year) is information you need to know. Assuming you have brought your plants all the way to mature seeds—now what? You will need to free the seeds from their pods in a process called threshing; which could be accomplished by rubbing the seed pods in your hands or putting them in an old pillowcase and beating it with a stick. Now you have seeds and chaff mixed together.

Winnowing Seeds

Next is winnowing, which is separating the seeds from the loose chaff. That’s where seed screens are helpful. Often you can put everything in a bowl and give it a shake. The seed will fall to the bottom and you can remove the big chaff by hand. Pour what is left through something with holes and you can remove more chaff from the seeds. The more closely the holes are to the size of the seed, while freely letting the seeds pass through, the cleaner the seeds will be. You will have chaff smaller than the seeds. To remove that, find a screen with holes a little smaller than the seeds. The dusty chaff will fall through, while your seeds stay on the screen.

As you can see, having more than one screen for one kind of seed is an advantage. The seeds of different crops are different sizes, requiring even more sizes of screens. You could purchase a set of eight professional quality seed screens for about $190, but don’t break open your piggybank yet. The colanders and strainers you already have in your kitchen, as shown in the photo, have holes. Different items have different size holes. You can use these to get started. You might find that this is all you will ever need.

Make Your Own Seed Screens

You could make your own screens using hardware cloth. Hardware cloth with half inch and quarter inch spaces are easy enough to find in hardware and building supply stores. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm sells hardware cloth with eight squares to the inch and five squares to the inch. Indian grocery stores sell a set of four screens for a cost of less than $15. They are used as I would use strainers in my kitchen and are handy when working with small seeds.

When you are first getting started, learn all you can about the seeds you are saving before you spend money on supplies. If you have a small amount of seeds, you may just shake them in a shallow bowl to get them to the bottom and blow away the dusty chaff with your breath. Have fun!

Cleaning the chaff from the seeds you want to save can be done with screens of different sizes. There are options for all budgets, including using the strainers and colanders you already have in your kitchen.