Homestead National Monument Ranger Jesse Bolli responds...
Thank you for your interest in preserving native landscapes. Local seed collection is an important part of any restoration. By harvesting the seeds locally, you are insuring that the seed is adapted for your area. Many hands are very important in a successful seed harvest. At Homestead, we are blessed to have a very involved volunteer group and a supportive community which make the job easier.
We do not use any fancy equipment when we are harvesting seed. A bag to put the seed in, gloves and training are all we provide for the volunteers. The key to a successful volunteer harvesting event is to do your scouting beforehand. Know what plants you want and where they are abundant.
At Homestead, we start each event with an educational and safety message. This helps to inform the volunteers why what they are doing is so vital to preserving native vegetation. We then head to the prairie to collect the seed. Ripe seed heads easily come off by using your hand to strip the seeds into the bag. Each species is put in its own bag. We have found that it works best to work in smaller groups, ten or fewer, ensuring that each group has one person who can easily identify the species that need to be collected. If you are targeting rare species, you will need to have even smaller groups or work individually. I have also found that it is helpful to make small guides for the volunteers to remind them what species we are targeting.
If hand harvesting is not feasible for the amount of seed that you need you may be able to rent or borrow a mechanical seed harvester that can be pulled with an ATV or tractor to speed up the process. Local Nature Conservancy and state game agencies would be a great place to start looking for a harvester to rent.
Other sources of interest
Inventor Helps Grasslands Go Native
ScienceDaily (Nov. 1, 2006)
Restoring California's native grasses
Agricultural Research, May, 2004
Warm Season Grasses for Wildlife