Don't say "Good-bye" to many of your favorite garden vegetables, herbs and flowers. For a change say "Good night, I'll see you next year," and give saving seeds a try.
In addition to giving one a feeling of self-sufficiency and saving money, it may be possible to maintain a variety that is not available commercially. Some plant breeders even search out old time varieties when attempting to improve commercial plants.
These plants, which repeatedly reproduce themselves from their own seed, are often called "heirlooms" and may have disease and pest resistance inbred, or may also have local climate hardiness not available through other sources.
Not all plant seeds may be used to grow next year's plants. Not all plants are "heirlooms." The seeds from "Hybrid" varieties, those specifically cross-pollinated by commercial growers, are not likely to produce plants similar to this year's parent plant.
As home gardeners, "open pollinated" varieties give us the most reliable, repeatable results and many seed dealers are responding to the increased interest in seed saving by noting these open pollinated varieties in their catalogs.
Some of the more common "self pollinated" annual plants from which seed may be saved include lettuce, beans, peas, herbs, and of course the very special heirloom tomatoes (most commercial plants are hybrids).
Saving seeds isn't difficult. Pea and bean pods are allowed to turn brown on the plant, picked, dried 1-2 weeks, then stored in a paper bag in a cool (50 degree) dry place until spring.
Herbs vary in the way their seeds are produced. Generally allow the seeds to become nearly dry on the plant. Some seed heads, such as dill, will shatter and drop their seeds as soon as they dry. Harvest the seed heads before they shatter, leaving several inches of stem attached, hang them upside down in a paper bag placed in a warm dry area until completely dried. Remove the seeds, place them in a well-labeled (there are many look-alikes) envelope or small glass jar.
Many herb seeds are not only used for plant propagation, but also flavoring. Who can resist home-grown dill, celery, anise, and cumin among others?
Of all the heirloom plants perhaps the most rewarding are tomatoes. Maintaining a prized variety can become a family tradition. Simply select fully-ripe fruit from desirable plants, cut them open and squeeze out pulp and seeds into a container; add a little water and let them ferment two to four days at room temperature with an occasional stir.
When the seeds settle out, pour off the water and pulp, and spread the seeds thinly to dry thoroughly, store in a cool and dry envelope ready for an indoor head start next March.
Material for this article is from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Master Gardener Manual Chapter 10, Seeds for the Garden.