As I scooped seeds out of a melon and into my compost bucket, it dawned on me how little economic or environmental sense it made. I discard thousands of seeds during a single season’s eating, only to turn around and order new ones each spring. I salvaged what I could from compost and made a commitment to save seed this year.
The majority of fruits and vegetables I grow are heirlooms. Heirloom plants are perfect candidates for seed saving because they are open-pollinated; the seeds produce plants true to type and identical to the parent plant.
Hybrid plants are crosses between two inbred lines. They do not produce plants true to type. I won’t bother saving seed from the few hybrids I grow — primo tomatoes, garden salsa peppers, diablo brussels sprouts — because hybrid seeds produce plants inferior to the parent plant.
Of open-pollinated plants, the easiest seed to save is self-pollinating peas, beans and tomatoes. Self-pollinating plants are in no danger of producing unwanted crosses within cultivars.
Cross-pollinated plants like corn will pollinate with other cultivars of its kind. Saving seed from sweet corn that has cross-pollinated with popcorn may give you sweet-popcorn or tough and inedible sweet corn the following season. If you want to achieve true plants from cross-pollinated cultivars you must take preventative pollination measures to maintain straight genetics. I hand-pollinate squash, gourd, melon and cucumber plants to avoid growing tough gourd-skinned zucchinis and green-streaked yellow squash next season. Isolation is another technique I use to keep straight genetics. The rule of thumb is to keep each cultivar separated by at least 200 yards to obtain seed that replicates the parent plant.
Only save seed from your best fruits and vegetables. Look for desirable traits you’d like to reproduce and harvest the produce when it is ripe and ready.
Flowerheads: Cabbage, beets, carrots and other biennials produce seed in their second year. You must leave a portion of the crop to overwinter, and then harvest and dry seed from the flowering portion the next spring.
Podded seeds: Beans, peas, peppers
Fleshy fruit seeds: Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons