Seed saving can be a rewarding and cost saving activity particularly if plants are selected for their good seed saving characteristics. This article will offer the beginning seed saver helpful advice on which plants to start with and how best to harvest, prepare and save the seeds. Bean/pea, lettuce, pepper, and tomato offer the beginning seed saver the best chance for successful seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.
Always harvest seeds from the best plants available. Choose healthy disease-free plants with desirable qualities. Look for the most flavorful vegetables or beautiful flowers. Because seed set reduces the vigor of the plant and discourages further fruit production, wait until near the end of the season to save fruit for seed. Seeds are mature when flowers are faded and dry or have puffy tops.
Toward the end of the season and while healthy pods are still being formed allow the pods on some plants to dry brown before harvesting. This is about six weeks after eating stage for beans and four for peas. If frost threatens, pull the entire plant, and hang in cool, dry location until pods are brown.
With lettuce you will need to take care to separate varieties flowering at the same time by at least 20 feet to avoid cross pollination. Some outside leaves can still be harvested for eating without harming seed production. Once half the flowers have gone to seed, cut off the entire top of the plant and allow it to dry upside down in an open paper bag for 2-3 weeks.
Some care must be taken to separate different varieties by at least 50 feet help ensure purity. Most peppers turn red when fully mature and this is the time to harvest seeds for saving. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull the entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature. Cut open mature peppers and scoop out the seeds. Follow with a gentle washing in a mild 10% bleach solution, and lay the seeds out in a single layer on white paper towels until the seeds have thoroughly dried.
If possible, allow tomatoes to completely ripen before harvesting for seed production.
Slice open the tomato, squeeze out the pulp and seeds into a glass jar, add water up to about ¾ of the jar, and set aside for a few days. A residue will collect on the top of the water as well as some of the seeds (these are dead seeds). The water will clear and the viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the jar. After five days carefully scoop out the residue from the top and throw it away, pour off the water and then pour out the seeds from the bottom of the jar onto white paper towel for drying.
Paper envelopes work well for storing each seed variety. Before storing test to make sure the seeds are dry enough by attempting to bend them. If the seeds snap instead of bending they are sufficiently dehydrated for storing. Large mason jars work well for storing your seed envelopes. Prepare a jar for seed storing by placing a small, cloth bag filled with dry, powdered milk in the bottom of the jar. This will help to absorb any moisture from the storage container. Place the seed envelopes in the jar, on top of the bag and tightly seal the jar. Next place the jar in the freezer for two days. This helps to kill any diseases that may be infecting the seeds. Find a place for long term storage that is a cool, dry, and dark where the temperatures remains fairly stable. A garage, storeroom, pantry, closet or even a drawer will work well.
A few weeks before planting time perform a test germination of saved seeds by placing the seeds on three layers of moist white paper towels, roll the towels loosely and place them in a plastic bag. Keep the bag in a warm place until germination occurs. Depending on the type of seeds germination may take anywhere from 2-14 days.
For more information on seed saving visit The International Seed Saving Institute at