Monarchs are in decline and they NEED milkweed to survive.
Here is a brief run-down of how we find it easiest to harvest milkweed seeds. There are several ways to harvest milkweed seeds, but this is the best way we have found. This method is time sensitive, so you must be watching your milkweed and harvest the pods at the right moment.
If you miss the proper timing, check out other harvest and seed cleaning options from this great Xerces Society blog: https://xerces.org/blog/harvesting-milkweed-seed-pod-and-plan
Ideally, you should harvest milkweed seed pods when seeds are mature (all dark brown) but before the pod has popped open on its own or soon after. To make your life easier, you do not want to harvest pods that have already started to expand with milkweed 'floofers' (fluff) exposed.
Press on the pod gently. If ready to harvest, they will pop open ON THEIR OWN and you can spread the follicle open to check the seed color. Pull pods with all (or mostly all) brown seeds off the plant and place in a harvesting container. We use 5 gallon buckets.
Spread each pod open and pull internal seed/fluff unit out.
Hold this seed/fluff unit at the base with one hand while you pull off the seeds gently with your other hand.
Place seeds in one bucket, fluff in another bucket (if you hope to make a hypo-allergenic pillow like we do!), and empty pods in a third bucket.
We 'donate' these empty pods to an area where milkweed has the chance to grow, as there usually are many seeds leftover in the empty pods and extra fluff.
As harvested, the seed is generally already clean but needs to be dried further. Place seeds in an open container in the sun for several days, stir regularly to allow extra fluff to float away, and pick out any bits of pods that made their way into the wrong collection bucket.
Store your seed in a dry container in an area with little temerature variation.
Dry the separated milkweed fluff in closed container with ample ventilation (we use pillow cases) for several days or weeks. The fluff will expand and, when dry, can be sewed into a pillow case to create an incredible night-time experience for your weary head.
Thanks for helping the monarchs.