Friday, November 15, 2013

Saving Allium Seeds at Home

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I've written about saving leek - Allium ampeloprasum* - seeds before but can one really read too much about saving Alliums? Here are some differences between Allium nutans and Allium amepeloprasum too.

I started with the Allium nutans - a very pretty edible, perennial onion with strap like leaves and semi nodding pink flowers that straight as they mature. They have typical spherical allium seed heads that open to reveal dark 'wedge' shaped seeds within. When nice and dry, the seed heads are easily shattered into a bowl.

Seed sorting techniques, in my opinion, are all about making it less tedious ie, faster! They can be broken into three components: harvest, thresh and winnow.

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Allium nutans seeds and chaff ready for processing. 

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Allium ampeloprasum for comparison.


Some seeds will ripen irregularly meaning that part of the seeds on a stem or group will be dry and ready while others won't. Lettuce does this producing a few fluffy flowerheads ready to pluck while the rest remain sticky and green. If you are desperate to collect as many seeds as possible, you can collect these early ones and then wait until the majority of the stem is dry and collect the rest of the stem OR you can just ignore the first ripe ones and wait until the majority of the stem is ripe OR you can tip stem into a paper bag (carefully so the stem doesn't break) and kind of shake vigorously every once in a while.

Back to Allium nutans. There were a few precocious seedheads but for the most part, they all ripened at once. I pulled the ripe stems and put them in a clean bucket ready for the purpose then I brought them inside and ignored them until they were really really dry. The ignoring part is important or at least dryness is.

Some were used in seed saving demonstrations and the others languished in the drying corner until yesterday.


Also known as separating the chaff - stem, seedpod etc.. - from the seed. There are lots of ways of doing this. When I have tonnes of the stuff, I put in a large container and get a kid to shuffle on it. The kid is not necessary but they do seem to get a kick out of it.

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Allium nutans getting the gentle smash treatment to help loosen seeds from chaff.

It helps to strip seeds from stems first if you can (bother). It will save you work later but it really depends on the amount of seeds that you are processing. You can also use various sieves such as screens, or in this case a rubber matt, to break open the seedpods and separate the big chaff. Sometimes I'll rub seed pods together in my hands over a bowl.

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After big chaff has been removed from the top.

With the Allium nutans, I just stripped the seedpods and rays from the stems then gently used a masher to encourage further separation. With the Allium ampeloprasum (leeks) that I harvested today, I placed them in a paper bag and rolled them with my rolling pin. The leek seedpods were wrapped more tightly in their pods so need a bit more processing.

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Life action shot of The Swish to help sort seed settle to the bottom.

Pour remaining chaff and the seed into a bowl and do the swish. If you have a lot of seed in a bucket, then you can do the tap or the shake. The latter is when you jostle the bucket to get the heavy, smaller seed to settle at the bottom and the larger chaff to 'float' to the top. The swish is when you shake the bowl in a circular motion collecting the chaff in the middle. This is useful not only for the initial chaff removal but later in the process as well.


Either lots of fun or like getting a stick stuck in your eye - small chaff sized sticks. Anyhow, the easiest way is to get to bowls/buckets and a breeze. Pour the seed and chaff from one container to the other letting the breeze sort the seed. Adjust the height of the pour to the strength of the breeze and the relative heaviness of the seeds. If this just won't work, look into water sorting.

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When the breeze cooperates, winnowing is a beautiful thing to behold.

Worked just fine for Allium nutans species.

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The remaining seed and chaff after I did the swish again to concentrate chaff in the centre for easier removal.

I've also blown on it especially at demonstrations when the wind was not cooperating or you can use other wind making devices such as a fan etc... You can even build a seed cleaning machine in your spare time. If you do, might as well make two and send me one. Thanks!

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The mostly cleaned seed of Allium nutans.