The satisfaction of winnowing the seed from the chaff

Winnowing : – To free seed of chaff by fanning with wind or a forced current of air.


I like the thought that I’ve been winnowing. It feels a very earthy and ancient activity and as a bonus I am potentially getting lots of plants for free for next year!


There is plenty of seed on the Eucomis bicolor

I’ve been busy in the garden collecting the last of the seed from the border plants, because we are expecting a hard frost on Saturday night, so I am expecting a lot of the flowers to turn to soggy mush (e.g. nasturtiums, eucomis, geraniums etc) or to turn black (e.g. the echinacea, rudbeckia, asters etc.).

I’ve been snipping off seedheads and stuffing them into an array of tissues, bags and envelopes, i.e whatever is available when I come across the seed. If I can save the seed from this years displays and experiments, then next year I can spend any budget on trying out different flowers and varieties.



Agapathus seed: It will take a couple of years growing on before the plants are big enough to flower.

Once the seed pods have dried out, I’ve also been able to do a spot of threshing too, prior to the winnowing of course.

Threshing is the process of loosening the seeds from the husks and pods.

It is very easy to achieve with the dried seed heads of flowers such as allium or agapanthus


Rather sadly, my threshing and winnowing activities have been very small scale. Instead of bashing the seedheads wholescale against the ground (treading on them on a stubby, rubber bath mat apparently works too), I’ve been shaking them in paper bags. Instead of tossing the resultant mixture high in the air and letting the wind to separate out the chaff and undeveloped seed from the heavier, healthy seed, I’ve been outside blowing on handfuls of the dried mix. (A fan would work as well.)

So here are some of my recent collection:


From top to bottom and left to right these are:
agapanthus (not winnowed yet), sunflower, runner bean, eucomis, persicaria (orientalis), echinacea ‘Sunset’, panicum ‘Frosted Explosions’, poppy ‘Blackcurrant Fizz’ (the runts)

The results are being tipped into labelled brown envelopes and marked with year, place of origin and species/cultivar (if known).  I say if known, because I have a habit of picking things up all over the place (fir cones, seed pods etc), although I resist pulling seed pods from actual plants, without permission, when I am not in my own garden. I know the frustration of seeing a row of stalks where the poppy seedheads should be for instance. (It happened week after week the year I grew the poppy ‘Blackcurrant Fizz’ at Wimpole.)

Obviously, I didn’t have to thresh and winnow a couple of those examples above, but most did go through one or other process.


Persicaria orientalis seeds

The winnowing of Persicaria orientalis worked particularly well after rubbing the well dried flowers between my hands. I started with a purchased packet that had ~30 seeds inside. Now look at the number of plants that I can grow (and there’s more drying).




I included the runner beans in the collection, because they have been tricky this year. They are not drying on the vines. Indeed, we were still picking them to eat until only a couple of weeks ago and the pods are quite green, with only one or two exceptions. Luckily, I have managed to save enough of Dick’s black runners for a wigwam next year, which are the only ones I cannot buy more of.


Echinacea ‘ Sunset’ seeds

Some seed is just too light and similar to the chaff to separate using air. As far as I know there is no easy way extract echinacea seed other than meticulously by hand. The same is true of zinnia.

So, if you have any ideas to make the cleaning of the seed of these kind of flowers any easier, I’d be delighted to hear them.



Nevertheless, once the job is done, it is heartening to know that next years planting options are wide open with room for new choices or, if necessary, variations on a theme.

Also, I find that I typically end up with enough seed to join in with seed swapping schemes. Seed swapping events are often held at the beginning of February. ‘Seedy Sunday‘ is one such meeting. It takes place in Brighton, but lists other swaps happening around the country. It is worth searching for your own local seed swaps. Many of next years events are already listed online.  Transition Cambridge will host its event on 24th January 2016. And so a whole new adventure can begin….




About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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10 Responses to The satisfaction of winnowing the seed from the chaff

  1. lyart says:

    very nice work, gathering seeds.

  2. It’s therapeutic too, especially when you can’t get out in the garden because of the rain.

  3. Two lovely words winnowing and threshing and a very worthwhile activity. My agapanthus heads are awash with seed so I shall be doing some threshing myself later today. Have a good weekend.

  4. Julie says:

    Lovely post as always, inspiring too. I am looking forward to visiting and seeing the fruits of your labour!

  5. Christina says:

    Good work. I tend to only save seed of plants I am unable to buy easily. Herb coriander because I use a lot, and special tomatoes. I should do more, you’ve inspired me.

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