For centuries everyone saved and swapped their own seed, and many gardeners still do. "Heritage" varieties only survived because someone, somewhere, was keeping them going from year to year. Saving your own seed saves money, and by swapping seeds you can add to the heritage varieties you grow. However, not all seeds are suitable, and for good results you need to harvest and store your seed carefully.
Answers to some questions that get asked a lot
- Can I save seed of anything? Well, yes, but you won't always get good results. Some types of plant are a better bet than others
- Why is that? Surely all plants come from seed. Yes, but not all "come true". Some plants produce seed which comes up exactly like the parent plant, so these are good candidates. With others, the offspring may be quite unlike their parents, so you are better off buying a packet of seed to make sure you know what you're getting.
So what are the best plants to try? The pea and bean family are good. Also tomatoes and peppers are an excellent one to start with - they seem to stay the same year after year even if other varieties are grown nearby. Pepetual spinach, which you want a lot of seed for, is a splendid one to try. Some salad plants will do well, but you have to wait an awfully long time for the seed, which can be off-putting.
- What really isn't worth bothering with? Never bother saving seed froma variety which is marked as "F1" on the packet. Seed will not only be wildly unlike the original, they won't even be like each other. There is a perfectly sensible reason for this, which I won't bore you with. You may, however, remember your school biology lessons, and the black and white mice?
- How do I go about it then? Seed must be perfectly ripe. It's best to collect it on a dry day when it is just about to be shed naturally by the plant. Keep your eyes peeled; if you leave it too long, nature will take it's course and the seed will fall to the ground. Once the stems are cut, the pods picked or the seeds scraped out from the pepper, put them in a dry warm place to finish drying off. Don't, at this stage, open pods or break up seedcases - better to leave it till the plant material has dried a bit.
- How on earth do I save seeds from tomatoes? They're all wet! Scrape seed out of the tomato onto a piece of kitchen roll and leave it to dry. You can cut the kitchen roll up later and save the seed still stuck to its little patch of paper. It doesn't harm it and it can be sown in the usual way.
- How should I store them? Large quantities of seed can be stored, as long as they are completely dry, in jam jars or plastic pots. But if they are too moist, they may go mouldy. For this reason I usually use paper bags or the little brown envelopes you can buy in stationers - Wilkinsons have cheap ones. As well as writing the name on the envelope, put the year they were collected!!! Some seed will keep for three years or more, but you do need to know.
Saving seed is very big in the USA
Here is a link to a website with loads and loads of advice on saving your own seed