Guide to Winnowing Seeds

winnowing seeds


What is Winnowing?

Winnowing, an ancient agricultural practice, employs moving air to separate seeds from unwanted chaff effectively. While our forebears utilized baskets, gourds, and the natural breeze, contemporary methods leverage plastic containers and fans to streamline the process. Imagine the laborious task of manually cleaning every grain we consume without the aid of modern innovations!

Seed Cleaning Process for Dry Seeds:

Drying the Seedheads/Pods/Plants:

To initiate the seed-cleaning journey, the first step involves meticulously drying the seedheads, pods, or plants. This ensures optimal conditions for subsequent processes.


Threshing is the art of separating seeds from their respective pods or stems. This can be achieved through methods such as rubbing, stomping, or even the age-old practice of dancing on the seedheads. This step is vital in preparing the seeds for the winnowing process.


Screening is implemented to catch debris by employing large holes, allowing the seeds to fall through. Simultaneously, small-sized holes enable the separation of finer debris. While more sophisticated seed-cleaning screens are available, standard screens and colanders from hardware stores can be equally effective.


This pivotal step utilizes a fan and a container to separate the seeds from the chaff. Working in tandem with the airflow, this process efficiently blows away the unwanted elements, leaving the seeds in the container.

Screening Again:

Following the initial winnowing, a secondary screening process is recommended. This ensures any residual debris is further removed, contributing to the overall purity of the seeds.

Winnowing Again:

As a final touch, a repeated round of winnowing guarantees a thorough cleaning. It's important to note that home-cleaned seeds need not be flawless; the objective is to achieve satisfactory cleanliness.

Potawatomi Lima Bean

Pictured: Potawatomi Lima Bean (click for seeds)

How to Winnow:

Work Outside:

The winnowing process is best conducted outdoors to allow for easy chaff dispersal and minimize indoor mess.

Set Up the Fan:

Elevate a box fan to a 1-2 feet height from the ground to create an effective air flow for winnowing.

Position the Container:

Place a medium to large container (such as a dishpan or plastic tote) on the ground before the fan to collect the cleaned seeds.

Fan Settings:

Set the fan to a low speed to facilitate the winnowing process without scattering seeds and chaff excessively.

Begin the Winnowing:

Start by pouring a small amount of seeds from a plastic container in front of the fan. The airflow will carry away the chaff, allowing the seeds to fall into the waiting container.

Adjust as Needed:

Fine-tune the fan speed or working distance to optimize the winnowing process. Consider turning the fan around and winnowing on the backside for more precision for smaller seeds.


For additional information and valuable seed-saving tips, refer to our comprehensive Seed Saving Guide! Master the art of winnowing and empower yourself to preserve and propagate seeds for future generations.


Download a PDF version of this guide.