Planning Your Garden for Saving Seeds
In order to successfully save seeds that will grow new plants true to the variety you have chosen, it is important to remember that they must be from open-pollinated and/or hybrid plants, not from hybrids. While hybrids may produce just the product you want from your garden, they will not breed true. So enjoy them for what they are- a plant bred for certain desirable characteristics.
In addition, resist the temptation to choose the less than perfect specimen to gather seeds. By choosing the best plant in your garden you are helping the strain to adapt to your very own mini-climate and growing conditions as well as ensuring viable seeds for sharing.
While it is possible to save seeds for any variety of plant, some seeds are much easier to save. These plants are usually self-pollinating and produce seed the same year they are planted. For other plants, the risk of cross pollination makes seed saving trickier, and some plants are biennials & must be over wintered to be planted for seed the second year.
The following are annual plants that are great to begin your seed saving activities:
Snap Beans – Cross pollination is rare as they produce self-pollinating flowers. Allow the bean pods to dry brown. If a frost threatens, pull the entire plant and hang in a cool dry place until pods are dry.
Lettuce – Lettuce produces perfect self-pollinating flowers. While some outside leaves can be harvested for salad, the lettuce must grow beyond usual harvesting to flower and produce seed heads. Lettuce will ripen at different times making bulk seed harvesting difficult but just right for home gardeners. When about half of the flowers on a plant has gone to seed, cut the top off the plant and dry upside down in a paper bag.
Peas – Peas also rarely cross pollinate, and since many home gardeners grow just one variety, cross pollination should not be an issue. Allow the pods to dry, as with the beans (above), until they are brown.
Peppers – There may be some cross pollination with peppers, but this can be addressed by planting peppers in different locations, including in flower beds. Since there are few plants that don’t tolerate peppers (kohlrabi, fennel) and some that benefit from them (basil, carrots, eggplant, onions, parsley, & tomatoes), they are easy plants to place singly or in small quantities around the garden. Harvest fully mature, healthy peppers for harvesting. Cut the bottom off the pepper and strip the seeds from the central cone. In small quantities they usually do not need more cleaning.
Tomatoes – Cross pollination is rare. While the usual method of harvesting seeds include letting them develop a fungus on the seeds mixed with a bit of water, you should have success in smearing the seeds on a paper towel with their jelly and letting them dry. If you do this in small amounts spread out, you can label right on the paper towels and plant each section directly in the spring.
Other plants to consider are corn, eggplant, dill, borage and annual flowers. Annual flowers such as marigolds, calendula, zinnias, & nasturtiums are easy to save. Collect the dried seed heads & store in a paper bag until thoroughly dry. Be sure to plant a large quantity of flower seeds to ensure you get lots of flowers!