Most likely your great grandparents did it, maybe even you grandparents. They saved seeds. Why? Well there weren't as many options back then for one but more importantly they knew the value in it.
Saved seeds are not the same as purchased seeds. All seeds grow- well, except for the GMO terminator seeds that produce sterile offspring. You know just a little insurance that the farmers have to go to the big ag/chemical companies to buy their seed. Sorry side tracked, but I couldn't help it. Anyways, most seeds grow so what is the difference? Each seed has a genetic make up that helps determine how well it will grow, how much fruit it will produce, and how well it will cope with the pressures of the environment that it is in. Lets take a Rainbow tomato for example. All the seeds collected from a rainbow tomato will produce a rainbow tomato but there are slight differences in each plant. You can capitalize on this with just a little effort.
Did you have several plants that did better than the others? This is where it all begins. In a year of drought like the one we just had there are going to be some plants that do better than others. Some that tolerated the drought better. If you save seeds from these plants and plant them the following year then save seeds from the plants that tolerate less water that year and so on you will soon have a drought tolerant variety.
Maybe it isn't drought tolerance you are after. Perhaps you get plenty of rain where you are but your tomatoes are prone to blight. Then you would select those that are most tolerant to blight. And the same goes for any plant that you grow. Isn't that awesome! You do not need a seed company to plant a garden. Most seeds are very easy to harvest. As simple as letting the plant go to seeds, collecting the seed, then letting them dry and storing them. (I've included a mini seed saving guide below)
Some varieties take a little more but nothing that you can't handle. Lets start with tomatoes. If you slice open a tomato and take a look at the seeds you will see that they are surrounded by a gelatinous sack. We don't want this gelatinous sack but it is very easy to get rid of. First slice your tomatoes down the middle horizontally. Now squeeze the seeds into a small bowl. Do this with all the tomatoes you are wanting to save seeds from being sure not to mix the seeds of different varieties and label each kind. Next add a little water to the bowl and place it somewhere that you will not be able to smell it. It gets a little stinky but it is only for a few days. This is where we get rid of that gelatinous sack around the seeds. Leave the bowl with the added water to sit for about three days. It will ferment and grow a thin layer of mold on top. This is what would happen to the tomato if it were to be left outside. The tomato would rot freeing the seeds and then come spring they would sprout. Once they have grown the mold add a little more water then use your finger or spoon to swirl the contents around. Carefully pour out the floating contents. The fertile seeds will sink to the bottom. You may have to do this several times and you will loose some good seeds so be sure to account for that when you are determining how much to save.
Now all that is left to do is let the seeds dry-make sure they are completely dry, then place them in a plastic zip-lock bag or mini manila envelope and label with the variety and year. You did it and you are on your way to tomatoes that are perfectly accustomed to your growing conditions! Pretty easy right?
*Please not that you can only save seeds from open pollinated varieties. Hybrids will not produce a true to type seeds and may not even be fertile at all. I suggest using heirloom varieties.
Here's a little recap-video form:
Saving other seeds
Beans- let them fully mature on the plant then pick them, let them dry completely, take out the beans and store.
Cucumbers- let the cucumbers grow until they are overly large and turn yellow. Bring them inside and let sit for an additional two weeks. This give a higher fertile rate. Cucumbers general don't produce a lot of fertile seeds so save plenty of cucumbers. Once the two weeks are over scoop out the seeds and process the same as tomato seeds.
Peas- let them grow to full maturity then bring them into dry. Harvest the seeds from the pod then store.
Spinach- allow plant to go to seeds then wait for the seeds to mature and dry. Once it has turned brown pull off the seeds and let it dry completely then store.
Peppers- choose fully ripe peppers. Slice down the middle, extract the seeds then allow to dry before storing. If you are working with spicy peppers be sure to wear gloves or you will have burning hands.
Swiss chard- Much like spinach, allow seeds to turn brown before collecting then bring them in to finish drying before storing.
Squash- Allow the squash to grow until the skin is hard and can't be easily puncture with a finger nail, cut it open, extract the seeds, clean the flesh from them then allow to dry completely before storing.
Herbs- For most herbs is all you need to do is allow the plant to flower and go to seed, wait for the seed to turn brown then carefully remove the seed. Bring it inside and allow the seed to finish drying before storing.
Carrots- Carrots are biennials meaning they only go to seed every other year. That means they have to overwinter then come back up to produce seed. I have had plenty of carrots go to seed the first year which can be handy for the seed saver in zone three where carrots do not regularly overwinter. When the carrot does go to seed collect in the same way as herbs.
Onions- Onions are biennials as well but they don't usually have any problem overwintering. Just leave a few in the ground and the following year they will come up and bloom. Once they have bloomed and begin to dry it might be a good idea to put a paper bag over the bloom to catch the seeds. because they will start to fall while you are waiting for them to dry.
May this encourage you to start saving your seeds and help you grow many successful gardens!
Happy, healthy, clean living,
Hello, I'm Jaci. I love gardening and being outside in God's amazing creation. I'm passionate about whole foods and clean eating. I look forward to sharing my farming adventures and helping you reach your gardening goals!