Summer Seed Crops: A Processing Guide
Elisa and Sheena cut open and scoop seeds from winter squash
Wet Processing Basics- Smash or cut open fruit into a container. Some fruits will need a fermentation time specified below. Add water after fermentation. In most cases the good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container and the ‘gunk’ will rise to the top. Carefully pour the vegetable matter off until you remove as much as possible without losing seeds. Add more water and repeat until the water is clear and you have removed most of the debris. At this point you can experiment with screens or colanders or hand picking to further clean seed. When satisfactorily clean, pour onto a window screen to dry for a few days in a warm shady location with good air flow. For a small batch you can also dry on a ceramic plate indoors. When dry, place in a paper bag for several more weeks to further remove moisture in a location with low humidity. Finally, move to a final air tight storage situation.
Dry Processing Basics- Allow pods or seeds to dry on plant then smash, stomp and shuck to remove seeds. Remove as many large stalks and cobs as you can with your hands then put all seeds and chaff in a large tote. Set up a fan on low and spread a sheet on the ground. Place a second empty tote in front of the fan and steadily and slowly pour the seeds and debris in to the empty bin. You will need to repeat this process several to many times. This is called winnowing!
Smashing tomatoes in a bucket to ferment.
Tomato- Wet process. Pick fruits when mature and good to eat. Smash in a container and allow fruits to ferment for 3-4 days. This breaks down the jelly sacks surrounding the seeds and removes germination inhibiting enzymes. Stir your brew daily. A warm shady location is best. A kitchen counter top will also do. Continue following directions for wet processing.
Using a stream of water to push hot pepper seeds through a screen and leave flesh behind. The mask is for the pepper fumes!
Pepper- Wet or dry process. Some peppers with thin skin can be left to dry on the plants and then crushed and winnowed. This method produces nice seed but can be very irritating with hot peppers. Alternately, pick peppers when red and mature. Most peppers will turn red at maturity. Cut open or smash to get seeds and wet process. Immature pepper seeds will float and be discarded. With very hot peppers it is advisable to wear gloves and a mask if you are processing a large quantity. We have had some bad experiences with burning hands and other unfortunate body parts!
Eggplant- Wet process. Allow eggplants to mature way past their eating maturity. Let them become discolored, often turning yellow to brown. The seeds can be stubborn to remove. Slice the eggplants and then crush slices to remove seeds. Add water and process. Screens can be useful for eggplant. For small quantities you can massage the flesh with your hands.
Squash, Summer- Wet process. Allow fruits to mature past eating stage. They will become very large, discolored and you should not be able to dig your fingernail into the flesh. It is ok to pick them at this stage and even let them sit for a couple more weeks to further mature the seed. Cut them open and scoop out the seeds into a container. For a small amount use a colander to clean the seed in a kitchen sink. For many fruits scoop seeds into a container and add water. Squash seeds are the exception to the sinking rule. They stubbornly float! For this reason you can ferment them for a day or so to help them sink, making it easier to remove the flesh.
Squash, Winter- Wet process. Harvest fruits in the fall. These are usually the last species to come out of our fields each season. You can clean them right away or harvest the seeds as you eat them all winter. If you just do one at a time then the colander method in the sink works well. For a large quantity you might want to give them a day of fermentation to help separate the seeds from the flesh. These are large seeds so be sure to dry them well before storage. The seeds should snap in half when dry. Not bend.
Melons- Wet process. Harvest for seed when fruits are ripe to eat! Cut open and scoop seeds then follow water processing instructions. No fermentation. If you are doing a large amount remember that you can freeze melon flesh.
Watermelon- Wet process. Harvest when fruits are ready to eat. With most watermelon there is a curly tendril opposite the stem that will dry up when the fruit is ready. Cut open and pick out the seeds. Yum. Great activity to do with friends.
Cucumber- Wet process. Allow fruits to become large and yellow and very unappetizing. Cut open and scoop out seeds. Ferment for 1-2 days then process.
Beans- Dry process. Allow pods to dry on plants. We usually hand pick the pods then put them on a sheet, wrap like a burrito and stomp. Kids love this; so do I! For bush beans you can also cut entire plant and then stomp. You end up dealing with more plant material to get out of the beans but sometimes that is easier than hand picking a large plot. Follow winnowing instructions.
Sasha wears gloves to remove seeds by hand from sunflowers
Sunflower- Dry process. Collecting sunflower seed always seems like a race against the birds! When you notice the seeds being eaten they are usually ready. When seeds are dry use your hands, gloves help, to rub the seeds off the heads. Winnow.
Corn- Dry process. Ideally allow corn to completely dry on plants. We often have problems with birds, ground squirrels and corn earworm causing us to harvest before the corn is completely dry. When this happens we shuck the corn and dry in the shade on screens. When kernels are completely dry use your hands to make a twisting motion on the cobs to remove the seeds. Gloves help a lot as do a few friends. Finally it is good to winnow your corn seed several times to remove debris and stray corn silks.