Earlier this spring, I wrote about choosing seeds for the veg garden and noted how the seeds I had saved from the previous year always seemed to germinate, grow and produce better than seeds of the same varieties that I purchased. It only makes sense. I know that the seeds I saved are fresh and have proven they can produce well in my particular soil and climatic conditions; and they’re free!
I’d like to encourage readers who are gardeners to save a few seeds this year for planting next year or even through the winter if you garden indoors at all. It is probably best not to save seed from hybrids because they may produce fruit quite different from the parent plant; but I have done it and had some good results. If you are into an experiment you could try, but for more certain genetic results use open pollinated varieties.
Legumes (peas and beans) are probably the next easiest to save. Just choose a plant that is exhibiting the characteristics you are looking for and let it grow, but don’t pick the pods. Sometimes I tie a ribbon on it so I don’t forget which one it is! Or, if you are a laisser-faire gardener, like I often am, and haven’t gotten around to pulling out the spent pea and bean plants, there will probably be a few pods left that have matured on the plant and you can pick to save for seed.
Near the end of the growing season when the plant has started to die back, and the pods are drying, pick them off and put them in a warm dry place to finish drying. When they are paper dry, crack the pods open and remove the seeds. Store in a cool dry place out of the light. A single bean or pea plant will probably provide as much seed as you would get in a purchased packet.
A parsnip left out overwinter will flower and make seed the second summer (one is enough!); but other biennial roots crops are trickier in Zone 1b because they will not survive over winter.
Many salad greens, like lettuces and mustards, will make seed if left to their own devices in the garden. Annual brassicas, like broccoli and rapini, and a radish plant or two can be left to bolt, flower and set seed for an amazing amount of seed production (and pollinators love the flowers). Leave the plants in the garden until frost kills them then cut off the stems or pull the whole plant and leave some place to dry. I put them loosely in a big cardboard box in the greenhouse or garage. Picking the seed pods off the dried plants is a bit tedious, but not difficult. I thresh them in my food processor and winnow them outside on a breezy day.
Vine crops like squash and melons are also easy to collect seeds from. Just pick some seeds out of the “guts” when cleaning the mature fruit and dry on a paper towel. They do cross breed easily though so if you have grown more than one variety, or your neighbors have, you might get some surprising results next fall! Cucumbers are a little trickier and rarely allowed to mature before picking, but I have had good results.