If you want to save some seeds from your own garden, it’s time to seriously think about how you will do it.  Such seeds can be uniquely suited to produce plants that will flourish in your climate.  You may have already missed the chance for the early, cool season vegetables, like peas, spinach, and the first lettuce.  But, many other opportunities await you!  You just need remind yourself of a few things in order to collect with greater success to produce desired results. (The photo below is of pole beans that I have grown from saved seed for a few years in succession.)

09102012a_pole beans hanging from a trellis


You need to know if the original, or parent plants, are hybrids.  If they are, there is not much point in saving the seeds, since you will have only a small chance of ending up with plants like the parents.  Often, the plants used to create the hybrid are not in and of themselves choice garden plants.  It just happens that their genetic forces combined are optimal.

You need to know if the plants self-pollinate or cross-pollinate.  This affects how likely you are to end up with variations from the original variety.  If you only grow one kind of a cross-pollinating vegetable or flower, you should be okay, but you still might need to keep an eye on what the neighbors are growing.  Lettuce is an example of a plant that almost always self-pollinates.  

09102012b_lettuce in bloom


You need to know if your plants are annuals, biennials, or perennials.  The carrots you planted this year will not be going to seed until next year.  Perennials often need a few years to mature enough to produce seed. (Mimosa tree below with green seed pods among fading flowers)

09102012c_mimosa flowers and seed pods


You need to know when the seeds will be mature and reliably able to germinate.  For some of the plants, it is simply when the fruit is ripe to eat.  For other plants, it is a challenge to capture the seeds before they blow away in the wind.  Other seeds won’t be ready until the fruit is overripe and stringy.  Seeds are packaged on the plant in so many different ways! (photo below is cotton coated seeds of African daisies)

09102012d_hand with seeds of flower


You need to know which plants are healthy and producing the best harvest.  Although some types of seeds should be collected from more than one plant, you should always be choosing the plants with the characteristics that you want to repeat.

You need to know if it is worth saving seeds.  If a plant can be effectively propagated via other modes, saving seeds may be unnecessary work.  Sometimes using bulbs, tubers, roots, or letting volunteers grow is the best choice.

I recommend two books that cover this subject, which I have had in my personal library for years and used repeatedly.  They give details about each type of vegetable and explanations of pollination that help in decision making.  The first, Growing Garden Seeds, is published by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  It is a succinct 32 pages that is an easy reference.  The second is The New Seed Starters Handbook, which is much thicker, but also has a lot of information about starting your plants from seed.

Some seeds can just be picked, other’s should be fermented out of the fruit, while yet others need a paper bag put over their heads at just the right moment.  It’s a bit of a game that is not boring, but not terribly difficult, either.

09102012e_watermelon patch