Whether you had your best veggie garden ever this year, or you’re looking to become a more self-sufficient backyard homesteader, saving seeds from some common vegetable plants can save money while resulting in the healthiest, most productive specimens from year to year. There are just a few things to think about before you get started.
First, it’s important to know whether the plant you are hoping to save seeds from is open-pollinated, heirloom, or hybrid. We only want to save the seeds of open-pollinated plants because these will reproduce true to their parent – the same type of plant will regrow next year. And if the seeds are heirloom, all the better! Heirlooms are open-pollinated seeds from the most vigorous and productive plants, chosen to be saved and passed down due to their desirable qualities. (All heirloom plants are open-pollinated, though not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms - got it? And both produce seeds that can be saved.)
If a plant is hybrid, don’t bother saving the seeds. Hybrid plants are created by cross-breeding two different plant species, resulting in a new type of plant that has useful traits belonging to both parents - larger fruit, for example, or disease resistance. These seeds, when replanted though, won’t result in the same plant. They may revert back to one of the parent plants, or you may end up with a different combination of characteristics from the two. Unless you have the time and space to run an experiment like that, open-pollinated seeds are the way to go - just check your seed packets for the “OP” label.
Next up, it’s important to know whether plants are cross-pollinating or self-pollinating. Cross-pollinating plants - as their name would suggest - need to be fertilized by the pollen from other plants of the same species. Self-pollinating plants are able to fertilize themselves. If a cross-pollinating plant mixes with a different variety of the same species, you may end up with seeds that are unrecognizable, and quite different from the plant you were hoping to reproduce. Seeds from self-pollinating plants, on the other hand, will produce offspring that are the same as the plant you saved them from.
When choosing which seeds to save, go for the healthiest, most productive plants in your garden. These are traits you want to see replicated in the offspring. Next, let the fruit mature as much as possible for the best chances of success. For plants like beans or peas, let the seed pods ripen and dry out while they’re still on the vine, then open, remove seeds, and lay them out to dry, avoiding direct sunlight. To save seeds from plants like tomatoes and peppers that grow inside the fruit, you’ll again let them ripen on the vine, then cut open the fruit, remove the seeds, and dry just like the peas and beans.
Make sure seeds are completely dry before storing to prevent them from becoming moldy, and store in paper bags or envelopes for proper air flow. Keep them in a cool, dry location, away from direct sunlight. Last but not least - don’t forget to label them!
• Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at email@example.com for more information.