By now everyone has probably heard that a great way to support the monarch is to plant milkweed in your garden or landscape. It’s pretty easy to grow-it just needs a sunny spot and relatively well drained soil. Before you plant your milkweed, though, you’ll want to stratify it, or expose it to cold for a prolonged period. This replicates the winters here in the Midwest, and it helps to wake up the seed and encourage it to germinate come spring. The easiest way to do this is to store your seed in a paper bag in the back of the fridge. The minimum is generally 30 days, but you can keep it in the fridge over the winter if you like, too. 

So you’ve stratified your seed, planted it, and you’ve got your healthy new plant for the monarchs. Now what? Toward the end of summer, you’ll see that the pods are getting big. You’ll know when to harvest those when you squeeze them gently and they pop open. Snip about ⅓ of them off (you’ll leave the rest for the birds and for the plant to reseed itself), squeeze them until they open, drop them into a paper bag, and let them dry out for a few weeks. 

There are a few ways to remove the milkweed silks (the white fluffy bits) from the seed. If you plan to reuse the seed yourself, you don’t really need to remove it at all, it’s just helpful if you’re donating it or giving it to a friend. The most common way to do this is to remove the silks and seeds from the pod and discard the empty pod. Drop the silks and seeds into a big paper bag with a handful of pennies, close the top, and shake the bag. Snip a small corner off the bottom of the bag and the seed will fall out. I’ve found it helpful to clip the bottom corner of the bag closed and repeat this process until I’ve gotten all I can. Discard the silks, and you’re good to go. 

Another way to process the seeds is to drop the seeds and silks into a salad spinner. You’ll need to add something to knock the seeds off (what the pennies do in the bag), so I use a handful of clothespins. Give it a good spin, and your seeds will fall through the strainer and into the bottom of the salad spinner bin. When you’re using the salad spinner method, skip the drying time before hand to get more seed. Both ways work, but I was able to recapture more seeds with this method than by using the classic paper bag.