After planting crops using seeds from a packet, you can begin to save the seeds from your fruits and vegetables. You should avoid saving seeds from hybrid plants, as they are difficult to properly replant from saved seeds. Check the label of the seed packet used to plant to original crop to determine whether it’s a hybrid. It’s best to start seed saving with simple crops, such as peppers, beans and heirloom tomatoes, and then move on to more challenging varieties like beets and squash once you get the hang of it. Remember that healthy plants make healthy seeds, so don’t try to save seeds from plants that are small, weak or diseased.
While there are specific tools and instructions for harvesting seeds from every kind of crop, in general it’s best to pick crops after they’ve ripened but before rotting. There are many guides available online explaining more precise picking times for all types of vegetables, which can be helpful to ensure your seeds will be able to be replanted. After removing fruits or vegetables from the vine, you can cut them in half and extract the seeds from the center, taking care not to damage seeds.
After they’ve been extracted, rinse seeds with water to remove any remaining fruit or vegetable residue. If the seed has a gelatinous coating around it, such as a cucumber or tomato seed, be sure to remove that coating while washing. Place them on a ceramic or glass plate to dry out. Keep the seeds separated from each other to avoid them sticking together, and turn them often to ensure that they are completely dried on all sides. After drying, store the seeds in an envelope in a cool, dry place to be used next planting season.
When replanting seeds, you must be aware of the pollination method of the plant to ensure the plants you grow will not be a cross between different varieties. Cross-pollinating can affect the taste and texture of the vegetable, making it too tough or stringy. Plants can either be airborne-pollinated, insect-pollinated or self-pollinated. Airborne-pollinated plants should be set at least a mile away from each other, or else the genetic composition is more likely to be incorrect. Insect-pollinated crops should be planted 1/4 mile away, and self-pollinating, which are typically easiest for a home gardener, should be separated by a few rows.
Seed saving is a fun and easy way to explore your gardening skills and save some money on commercial seeds. Try your hand at this simple project this harvest season, and see where seed saving can take you!
http://howtosaveseeds.com/index.php - Offers specific instructions for certain vegetables
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07602.html - Lists how certain crops are pollinated
Blog image courtesy of @andrewmalone via Filckr