There comes a point for every amateur seed-saving enthusiast when the payoff from hours spent pulling apart pods by hand at the kitchen table doesn’t seem to match the results of the effort. I hit this milestone while scaling up my saving efforts in order to trade with other gardeners.
Varying sizes of soil sieves, strainers and other equipment can do the job of small-scale threshing, winnowing, sorting and cleaning. There are also high-end products, like The Seedkeepers six-piece set of screens.
The DIY Option
The most economical option, however, is a homemade or upcycled set of screens, which can be made with varying sizes of steel mesh and a simple wooden frame. (Upcycled picture frames work beautifully for this purpose.) Attaching the mesh to the frame is as simple as stapling it on, taking care to give a taut fit in order to prevent seeds from slipping through or being caught between the mesh and the frame.
Basically, what you want is a series of screens with holes that correspond to the size of seed you intend to save. These screens are used in order to filter out pods, sticks, leaves, and other plant debris. Super-small seeds, like Digitalis and St. John’s wort, for example, would be on one end of the seed size spectrum, whereas larger seeds, like okra, peas, beans and squash, would be on the larger end.
In using the screens for smaller seeds, the seeds will fall through the screen and the debris will remain on it, so another vessel is needed underneath for collecting them during cleaning. For larger seeds, the inverse it true: They should remain on the screen, while debris falls through. As such, cleaning larger seeds can be done over the compost pile.
In any case, it’s much easier to break up dried pods in bulk by rubbing them on a screen than by painstakingly opening them and pouring their contents into a bowl, making your seed-saving endeavor a much more enjoyable one.