Farmers have been saving seeds for generations. Not only will it save you the cost of purchasing seeds, but if you keep the seeds from your favorite, highest yield, heartiest and best tasting plants, you will become like your own plant breeder, selectively weeding out the least desirable traits and encouraging the more desirable traits for your future crop plantings. There are two types of seeds, open-pollinators and hybrids, for the most popular vegetable varieties. Open-pollinators produce seeds that have the same characteristics as their parents, while Hybrid seeds can be sterile or produce plants that aren’t like their parents. While you can still collect seeds of Hybrids, I would recommend focusing your efforts on open-pollinators. Seed catalogs and packets will state whether they are open-pollinators “OP” or hybrids “F1 Hybrid.” If you can’t locate this information, call the seed company or ask someone at your local garden store. Once you’ve collected your seeds, be sure to properly label them and store them in a dark, cool, dry place for next growing season. Seed germination rates decline rapidly after the first year, even if you are buying seeds from the store or catalog, so try to use all your seeds up every year, as you will inevitably have trouble with germination if you save them too long.
Cross pollination: If you are planting multiple varieties of the same crop and you want to save seeds from each variety, it is important you separate the varieties so they aren’t cross-pollinated. If you are seed saving and want to grow the same type of acorn squash the following year, don’t plant it next to a zucchini or miniature gourd without erecting a barrier like a row cover to prevent cross-pollination. You can also prevent cross-pollination by staggering their blooming and harvesting dates.
Easy seeds for saving: Beans, corn, peas and peppers are easy to collect and just require you to let seeds dry before storing. Melons, squash, tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers have wet seeds and require a bit more effort. Rinse the seeds and dry them fully on a paper plate before storing. To store, pour the seeds into an envelope or plastic bag, label and keep in a dry, cool place for the following growing season.
Long game seeds: Greens like lettuce, arugula and spinach need to continue growing past their harvest time to produce seeds. You can leave just one or two of your favorite plants to go to seed and tear out the others to replant a new succession. Weather conditions can cause some plants to bolt – meaning to go to seed prematurely. When a lettuce or spinach plant bolts it begins upward growth and the leaves begin to taste bitter. Arugula will grow tall, flowers will bloom and it will produce small seed pods. When seeds or seed pods are visible, pull up the entire plant, put it head first into a paper bag and let dry. Once fully dry, shake the bag vigorously, letting the seeds fall to the bottom. Pour the seeds into an envelope or plastic bag, label and store in a dry, cool place for the following growing season.
Tricky seeds to save: Certain plants, like kale, onions and carrots only go to seed in their second year so it’s not always possible to save their seeds, especially in areas with long cold winters. Unless you are super ambitious or have a year-round growing season, plan to continue to buy carrot, kale, radish, beet, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprout and onion seeds each year.