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How to harvest kale seeds

Harvesting kale seeds

Threshing crucifer seedsI've been learning to save a lot of different kinds of seeds over the last few years, and the most difficult part seems to be figuring out the best processing technique to get seeds out of their fruits or hulls.  With the first crucifer I processed (tokyo bekana), I gathered the whole top of the plant and pounded it with a big wooden pestle to break the seed cases apart.  My new method with kale seems to be even more streamlined.

Seed to Seed warned me that kale fruits ripen a few at a time over the course of a week or two.  If you rip up the whole plant, you'll either lose some seeds due to premature shattering (opening) of the early pods, or you'll harvest seeds that won't sprout since they're not fully mature.  So I set off to break the ripest-looking kale pods into a container, figuring I'd come back in a week to harvest the rest.

Winnowing kale seeds

Stripping kale seedsAs I worked, I realized that it was even easier to simply thresh the ripe pods directly into my container than to break off clusters of pods.  Running a fruiting head through my hand resulted in lots of seeds and some pod bits making their way into my box, which meant the threshing and winnowing stage was as simple as shaking the box so the seeds settled to the bottom, scooping out most of the pod bits, and then blowing the rest away.

This week was my second round of harvesting, and a few minutes' work netted half a pound of kale seeds!  Kale seeds are good for three to five years, so I shouldn't have to save seeds again for quite a while.  Now I just have to wait and see if the information I was given on kale hybridization is correct (meaning that I should end up with two unsullied varieties, the same as I grew last year) or if my Red Russian and Improved Dwarf Siberian interbred (meaning that these seeds will turn into the kale equivalent of an alley cat).

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Is there an online source that outlines how long particular types of seed last? I thought most seeds needed to be used within a year for optimal germination rates. I just assumed that you had to save seed every year in order to avoid purchasing it.
Comment by mitsy Tue Jun 26 17:28:44 2012

Mitsy --- It doesn't have everything you might grow on it, but I've made a post about vegetable seed longevity. I got the information from a lot of googling (name of vegetable + "years" works well).

Of course, seed longevity will also depend on how carefully you store them in a cool, dry place. If you have room in your freezer, they'll last even longer in there as long as you put them in a sealed container so they don't get wet when they thaw.

Comment by anna Tue Jun 26 19:12:52 2012
Good to know. I have 3 kale plants that stayed alive and active all through our recent warm southern new england winter and they grew so crazy this spring. I've had to support them cause the pods and stems got so heavy.
Comment by Marco Tue Jun 26 20:44:17 2012
Sounds just like our experience. Who knew kale got so big when it goes to seed!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 27 06:44:28 2012
Even this far south I've had kale which lasts all summer when fall sown. This year I mowed down everything, weeds, kale and all. Now the kale is back big enough to eat again.
Comment by Errol Wed Jun 27 07:43:41 2012
Daddy --- We have a kale plant that's about to turn two years old. It tried to bolt, but I picked the flowers really hard before they opened and it went back to vegetative growth after a while. I wonder if that's what you did to get your kale to last the summer?
Comment by anna Wed Jun 27 18:55:48 2012

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