Harvesting Radish Seeds

Locally adapted seed is an important ally in the garden. Seeds you save and plant again become more adapted to your climate, water conditions, soil, etc. Each time you save seed and then grow it out properly, that seed improves. Here are tips for harvesting radish seeds.

Last winter we ran out of Purple Plum radish seed, so when we spotted one of our large roots bolting to seed at the end of the season, we seized the opportunity. Technically, you’re supposed to save seed from as many plants as possible (10-15) in order to ensure genetic diversity. We only had one plant bolting, so hey, we’ll take that. We pulled any other radish plants going to seed and marked our bolting plant with a ribbon so no one would pull it.

Radish seed pods are dried and crispy

Radish seed pods are dried and crispy

Saving seeds is a little time consuming, but with the proper tools it’s easy (and much faster). Here are the steps:

1) Crush the seed pods

We did this by hand, wearing gloves.

We did this by hand, wearing gloves.

You can place the pods in a bag and stomp on it, or crush by hand (takes longer) like we did.

2) Screen out the big parts

We dorkfully started winnowing (step 3) before taking this important step of screening out the big pieces, and ended up with half the seeds on the ground in a strong wind…which reminds us of an important tip we’ll share in a moment.

Screens are you friend. You can buy a set or make your own.

Screens are you friend. You can buy a set or make your own.

We had some leftover food-grade screen from when we made our solar food dryer. A single layer of this will filter out about 90% of the big pieces. Pass your seeds through a screen several times. Then switch to a smaller screen (like a sieve with larger holes) to get the smaller bits.

3) Winnow

This is the fun part. Get two buckets and a box fan, or a breeze. Pour the seeds slowly from one bucket to another and watch all the chaff float away. Repeat several times. It really works, except when a wind gust suddenly shifts and you end up with half your seeds in the mulch. Here’s that tip we promised earlier: Put a catchment basin under your bucket. Details.

Pour from a small bucket to a larger bucket in the breeze.

Pour from a small bucket to a larger bucket in the breeze.

4) Put seeds in the freezer

In order to kill off any critters who might be taking a ride on your seeds, place seeds in a glass jar and freeze them for 3 days. Then remove them to store in a cool, dark and dry location.

Radish seeds are medium sized, so you won't need a very small screen.

Radish seeds are medium sized, so you won’t need a very small screen.

Screened and winnowed radish seeds, ready for storage.

Screened and winnowed radish seeds, ready for storage.

That’s it! So next season we’ll plant some of these to see how well we isolated our seed heads from possible cross-pollination. We may end up with a brocco-dish or a variety that bolts to seed quickly, who knows, but if we did it right, we’ll have Purple Plum radishes.

What seeds are you planning to save this season (or plant out from last year)? Share your picks with us here.

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