Saving seed is one thing…but then cleaning it is a whole other thing.
Why clean it? Well, when we first harvest the seed, we just want to get it out of the elements and keep it dry. Along with the seeds, we end up bringing in all kinds of other bits of the plant. In order to incorporate seed saving into the operations of our small farm, we need to try to make the process of both harvesting seed and re-planting the seeds we’ve saved, as efficient as possible.
You know when you buy seed and you open up that seed package and all you see are seeds? That’s because those seeds have been cleaned (or separated) from all the other bits of the plant. If half the package was made up of little bits of dust and chaff, it would make planting much slower. Cleaning seeds make them easier to plant.
Cleaning seed more efficiently was the purpose of the recent work bee between the farmers of the Cumberland County Ecological Seed Growers’ Network (CCESN) to create a Seed Cleaner for each farm.
The CCESN is currently made up of 4 farms in Cumberland County. The 4 farms in the Network are Wysmykal Farm, Side by Each Farm (part of Dicotyl Eatin’ Co-operative Farm), Good Thyme Farm, and our farm. We also have 2 local advisors: Silvana Castillo from La Finquita Seed Company and Su Morin from Seeds of Diversity Canada.
The goals of the CCESN are to build our skills and knowledge around seed stewardship and increase regionally-adapted and high-quality local seed production. Each farm has different goals and expectations for how seed-saving fits into the big picture of their farm business. But, collectively, we want to grow our seed-saving skills.
We have been encouraged and supported by the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. This is a great initiative taking on the super important work of building our national skill set around seed production. Right now, we Canadians are so heavily reliant on seed imports to grow our local food, it’s crazy.
So, on to the work bee: We found the seed cleaner plans online at The Real Seed Catalogue. We knew other seed growers in NS that had built and used this cleaner with success.
Basically, the seed cleaner has one side with baffles (partitions) that seeds are dropped through and the other side is where you get suction that pulls in the unwanted debris and chaff (or lighter seed).
You can use any material that is smooth and won’t catch the seeds and chaff as they move through the cleaner. We used melamine for the backing (since it is white and a good backdrop for being able to see what is going on) and pine 1X3 for the channels (since it had the closest dimensions that were called for in the plans). Using the pine 1 x 3 saved a bit of time by not having to mill stock down to the appropriate size, but with the right tools, you could mill a more uniform product than what can be purchased.
After laying out the plans on the melamine board, pre-drilling the holes through the melamine and Plexiglas, the wood partitions were clamped and screwed in place.
The Plexiglas was the hardest thing to cut to size, until we ended up using the table saw. A thinner piece of Plexi could be used, but this was available at a better cost from a sign shop.
The vacuum (5.5hp Shopvac) we purchased ended up being quite powerful for smaller, lighter seeds (like onions, brassicas and lettuce) so we added more air holes to control the amount of suction. With all the air holes closed up, the vacuum was strong enough to pull out some of the lightest seeds from a batch of soybeans. We opted to put the air holes on the back and side of the cleaner, just to keep the view of the front completely clear.
Our costs for one Seed Cleaner (though we bought the materials for all 5 in bulk):
|Melamine: 4X8 sheet costs $26 dollars: yields 10 pieces 18”x24”||$2.60|
|Plexiglas: 6 @ 18”x24” pieces plus extra for air vents: $80.00||$13.33|
|1”x3” 8 foot pine boards: $4.88 each: 2 needed per unit||$9.76|
|#6 X 1-1/4” wood screws 50 count||$4.99|
|Hardware for air vent||$2.00|
|5.5 Hp shopvac||$94.00|
Other items needed: wood glue, assorted power tools
And here is the final product, in use, back at the farm: