Monday, November 21, 2011

Seed Cleaning

Late fall is a busy time at the Ecology Center with the staff trying to schedule the yearly prescribed burn and collecting and cleaning seeds for planting. We usually try to involve students in this process because not only are they learning a part of the life cycle of a plant, but the class takes home a big bag filled with seeds they picked and cleaned with their own hands.

Seed cleaning may bring images to mind of scrubbing seeds with soap and water, but this is not the case, as today's students learned. This was the school's first trip to the Ecology Center and the staff is helping the school plan their very own native plant garden. My group was introduced to the prairie habitat and the ways these plants are adapted to a life of full sun and little rain.  The students got a hands on look at the various sizes and shapes of seeds and we discussed how they were adapted to their particular method of transport (seeds that were carried on the air were light and fluffy, whereas seeds that hitched a ride on the coat of an animal felt like velcro).  There was a great deal of smelling, poking and rubbing of plants as the kids decided what they wanted to put in their bag.
Once we collected enough seeds, we returned to the cabin to begin the process of seed cleaning.

Seed cleaning is essentially separating the seed from the chaff and spreading them out to dry. Ideally, colanders, sieves, window screens or other forms of metal screens are ideal for this step, but space and cost is something of an issue for us. We have the kids separate the seeds from the chaff on top of a white piece of paper or tray before moving the seed to another tray.

The newly separated seeds can be dried in paper or plastic bags (open for air circulation), dixie cups or spread out on small plates. The seeds need to be turned or stirred every few days to make sure they are dried evenly. Once dried, the seeds can be stored in a cool place out of direct sunlight until they are ready to be planted.

The kids had a great time cleaning the seeds and it didn't take long before stems and other pieces of chaff were strewn across the table and on the floor. The next step is for the school to sow those seeds in their garden. And that is an entry for another day.


  1. I would have loved to be a part of this. So earthy!

  2. Michaele this is one of my favorite curriculum during the fall and early winter. The kids really enjoy it too.