Did you know that you can save your own seeds to replant next year? Seed saving is an important part of agricultural history. Though we’ve seen many advancements in commercial agriculture, monocropping and the use of heavy machinery have led to the elimination of many varieties of vegetables from common production. Today’s large commercial farms mostly stick to varieties that look “perfect”, can be picked unripe, and can be shipped all over the country. Folks in earlier ages had many more varieties of tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and many other common vegetables in their home gardens and markets. Many families even cultivated their own heirloom varieties to pass on to future generations. At our March community event, we learned about one such variety of pepper--fish peppers!
If you are interested in saving your own seeds, here’s a few things you need to know:
You can only save seeds from open-pollinated varieties. Hybrid varieties won’t produce true-to-variety plants, and the plants are often less-vigorous. Some hybrid varieties can help overcome plant adversities such as pests and diseases, but we recommend using a locally adapted heirloom variety if you want to save your own seeds.
Seeds should only be saved from mature plants. Sometimes this means letting a fruit grow way past the point where you would pick it for eating. Good examples of this are zucchinis and cucumbers. We normally want to pick them small so that the seeds are easy to eat. When saving seeds, it makes sense to let them develop fully, past the point where they would be delicious to eat.
Saved seeds should be stored in appropriate conditions. For most seeds, this means in an airtight container in the fridge, but you should check what is best for each vegetable (some, like paw paws, need to be kept moist to germinate).
Saved seeds only last a few years, even under ideal conditions--so make sure you label them with the date.
As you start your seed-saving journey, you can not only save a bunch of money on buying seeds, but you can become part of a seed-saving community! Folks all over the world share varieties with each other. Here in the US, the Seed Savers Exchange operates the largest non-government seed bank, and has an online seed exchange for folks all over the country to share seeds. There are also local seed swaps and meetups every spring so you can get to know your locally adapted varieties through the folks who’ve grown them. What are you going to save first?