Threshing and winnowing at OrganicLea

On Sunday, a group of Seed Buddies from our 2016 training programme, attended a seed saving workshop at OrganicLea, a thriving market garden in the Lea Valley. A worker’s co-operative, they run a box scheme, grow seedlings for sale, and save a range of vegetable seeds mainly for their own use on site. It seemed like a great place to go and learn about seed saving from growers who have integrated the techniques in to their everyday practice.

Head grower Ru gave a short talk on practical aspects of saving vegetable seed – how to recognise when a crop is ready for harvesting and how to dry the seeds. Then we got going on the main part of the day – threshing and winnowing dried crops in order to extract the seeds. Seed saving uses a utilitarian assortment of tools. The first to catch our attention was a home-made, badly-worn wooden club. This was used with some abandon to bash large paper bags of dried plant matter to start the process of separating the seeds from their pods. The process continued with some finer sorting using kitchen colanders, nimble fingers and good old-fashioned blowing to extract the precious seeds from the lightweight chaff. In the end, we filled a dozen or so brown paper bags with the booty – chicory, amaranth, leaf celery and coriander seeds, amongst others – all beautifully cleaned and dried and ready for sowing again next spring.

Ru donated two new varieties to the Freedom Seed Bank: Amaranth ‘Latte’, a variety originally collected from a Pakistani women in Leyton: and, Grandpa’s Cress, a fast-growing, small-leaf cress, obtained from the Heritage Seed Library. The Seed Buddies will be growing both of these varieties in community spaces across London next year.

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