Saving seeds isn’t just for flower gardeners! Seeds from open pollinated vegetables can also be saved successfully for one or more years, saving money and time spent flipping through seed websites. Some vegetable seeds even save themselves, popping up as “volunteers” in a random spot in the garden or even the compost bin.
To save your seeds, first make sure the vegetable or fruit you’re harvesting is disease-free, as the seeds can carry the disease, too. Save seeds from at least 5 different plants to preserve diversity, if possible. Most seeds should be air dried on a glass plate or similar hard surface. Never on a towel or paper towel, as they’ll be nearly impossible to scrape off a soft surface. Once you are sure they are dry, store the seeds in a cool, dark and dry place. Don’t forget to label them with the variety and date, too!
In terms of what to save, nothing could be easier than peas and beans. Simply leave peas on the vine for another 4 weeks past when you would normally eat them. When the pods start turning brown and shrink against the seeds inside, they’re ready to harvest. Air dry for six weeks to ensure all the excess moisture is out. For beans, let them stay on the vine until the pods are hard and brittle, and air dry until the seeds are hard enough that they can’t be dented with a fingernail.
Peppers, melons and winter squash are almost as easy. Simply cut open the ripe fruit, scoop out the seeds, and lay them on a glass or ceramic plate to dry in a cool, dry place. Melon and squash seeds need to be rinsed first, and a tiny bit of dish soap can help remove the last of the sugar so they dry without rotting. The squash seeds can be harvested as you eat this year’s harvest throughout the winter, as they’re perfectly preserved in the squash until they are cut open.
For cucumbers and summer squash, let the fruit get ripe past where you would normally eat it. Summer squash skins should be tough enough that they cannot be dented with a fingernail before you harvest them to collect their seeds. Rinse the seeds in a sieve – cucumber seeds need the abrasive texture to slough off the outer coating.
If you’re feeling adventurous, tomatoes are a little more complicated, since they have a jelly-like coating that needs to be removed. To do this, add a little water to your saved seeds, and let them ferment for 3 days until gray or green mold (yes, mold – stinky mold) forms on the top. When bubbles start to come to the surface or there’s a nice thick layer of mold, add more clean water and stir. Good seeds will fall to the bottom, while bad seeds and mold will float to the top. Skim off the waste on the top, pour out the excess water, and repeat until only good, clean seeds are left in the bowl. Drain, dry and you’re well on your way to next year’s Caprese salad.