Once the seeds are dry, they need to be cleaned (separated from the stalks). Seeds are dusty so take safety measures to protect your eyes and lungs. For the manual cleaning, I wear a face mask and eye protection. When hammermilling, we add ear protection.
The tools we use
- Two sizes of hardware cloth “screens” for “fluff” seeds
- Small screens for screening after hammermilling
- Various size scoops
- Various size paper, plastic, and feed bags
- Face mask
- Eye protection
I emphasize the importance of knowing what the seed looks like for each plant you are processing. This will help you determine the proper screen size to use and will ensure you’re not tossing out the seed thinking it is the residual dust. Seeds from Eastern shooting star (Dodecatheon meadii) and tall cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta) are tiny and it would be easy to toss them thinking they were dust particles.
Cleaning Fluff and Large Seeds
The seeds with fluff are scraped or rubbed across the screens with the bin underneath. Some examples of “fluff seed” include asters and goldenrods. Jim custom made the screens to fit a plastic bin. I have no worries about losing seed because the screen isn’t securely set. The bins are made of ¾” pine cut to 21 ½”long, 15 ¼” wide, and 5 ½” deep. Construction is with screws. One is covered with ¼” hardware cloth and the other is covered with ½” hardware cloth stapled to the wood. Make sure the hardware cloth has no ragged edges to catch your gloves and clothes.
Silphium seeds are large. I process them the same as I process fluff seeds. The photos show me using my 12×12 screens but I also use the hardware cloth screens as well.
Milkweeds have their own cleaning technique. Timing is critical. Waiting until the pods pop open makes it difficult to separate the seeds from the fluff as it is wildly flying around! To check for maturity before collecting, I push the seam. If it pops open and the seeds are brown; they are ready. The gallery of pictures show the method for cleaning milkweed.
Processing Hammermilled Seeds
Hammermilled seed need further screening to remove the chaff. The hammermill simply breaks the pods apart; it doesn’t separate the seeds. I use 4 sizes of screens with round holes: 3/16, ¼, 3/8, and 5/8. I purchased these from Hoffman Mfg. My frame is 12” x 12”, which is a good size for the amount of seed that we process.
The chaff, all the stuff leftover from the actual seeds, has small amounts of good seed in it. The chaff goes into bags labeled for their appropriate habitat, e.g. dry chaff, wet chaff, savanna chaff. This makes it easy to spread the chaff into the appropriate habitat.