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Mother Earth News, Sep/Oct 78

As in just about every other aspect of seed production harvesting procedures vary from one vegetable to the next. Certain generalizations however do apply to five basic groups:

Beans, Peas, and other Legumes:
Let the finest pods on the most vigorous plants remain on the vine until they're completely dry. At that time they should be brown or yellow - depending on the variety - and the seeds should rattle. Then just pick and shell. Or you may thresh the pods by beating them with a stiff leather belt or other device. Be careful not to hit them too hard however or you may shatter the seeds inside. The easiest way to separate shelled beans and peas from unwanted debris is to use a lawn rake. Or you can screen the vegetation: Just make sure the holes in the mesh are small enough to hold pods and stems but large enough to allow the seeds to pass through to a ground cloth or receptacle that you have waiting below. You can make a simple screen by attaching wire mesh to a barrel hoop or similar device.
Pulpy Fruits and Vegetables (tomatoes squash cucumbers melons peppers eggplant and okra):
Pick fruit when it is dead ripe. Scoop out the seed-bearing pulp and place It In a container with enough water to cover. Next allow the mixture to sit - and ferment - at room temperature for 5-7 days. By then, the seeds should have separated from the pulp and fallen to the bottom of the container. After rinsing the seeds until they're clean spread them out in a cool place to dry.
Mustard-Family Crops (cabbage, kale, collards ,cauliflower, kohlrabi, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard, radishes, rutabagas and turnips):
Cut the seed stalks before their pods have completely dried out. Then hang them indoors for 2-3 weeks to finish curing. When the stalks are as dry as they will get thresh the pods as you would beans and peas. Then rake or screen to remove plant debris. Finally winnow the seeds to remove any chaff that is still mixed in with them. This is best done on a slightly breezy day. Just drop the seeds from a height of five or six feet onto a ground cloth or into a large-bottomed container. The wind will carry away the light chaff but not the heavier seeds.
Small-Seeded Crops (lettuce, endive, celery, carrots, onions, spinach, and salsify):
Pick the seed stalks when they have matured place the stalks - one or a few at a time - inside a paper bag shake off the seeds and then winnow them as described above.
Corn (sweet corn, field corn, popcorn):
The ears should remain on the stalks until the kernels are hard and dry ... about 3-5 weeks after the eating stage. Then bring them inside before the onset of frost or wet weather in the fall. Shell the ears only when the kernels have completely dried.