Many veteran gardeners save seeds almost compulsively. Why? Because if you harvest the seeds from your own garden, you not only save money but also ensure that you enjoy access to the varieties you love. There's nothing especially complicated about saving seeds: With little time and preparation, it's simple enough for most beginners to do. These straightforward tips will help you stash some of summer's bounty for next year's garden.
Choose the nicest specimens as a general rule. Next year, you'd hate to see a repeat performance from specimens that fell to disease or proved themselves weak over the course of the current season. Remember to harvest seeds only from your hardiest and best producers.
Another general rule: Don't save seeds from hybrids. Although hybrids produce seeds, sewing them will give you a plant with characteristics of both parents, but it may not be the sought-after genetic split. Avoid that uncertainty and save seeds only from heirloom, self-pollinated, or openly pollinated plants.
For Flowers: Cut flower heads once their seed pods have dried out (or shortly before), then hang the heads upside down in a paper bag to dry. Having allowed enough time for drying, remove the seeds. Separate them as much as possible from chaff and other plant material.
For Fruits and Vegetables: Harvest fruit seeds once the fruit has become fully ripe or overripe. Before setting the seeds out to dry, give them a thorough wash. Adjust your approach with podded vegetables like beans and peas: Let these seeds dry in their pods on the plants before you gather them.
Dry seeds away from direct sunlight, on a ceramic or glass plate. Before storing them away, make sure your seeds are completely dry.
Store dried seeds in paper envelopes, labeling each with the name of the seed and its year of harvest. You might think you can remember what is what, but some varieties look nearly identical. Many seed types remain viable even several years after being harvested.
Put your seed-stocked envelopes inside an airtight container. Store the container in a cool, dark, and dry location (some people use the refrigerator). To absorb moisture, you might add a packet of desiccant (from a pill bottle, let's say), or fold a little powdered milk into a tissue.
Saving seeds is fun once you get the hang of it. If you end up with extras, trade seeds with friends and neighbors, or give some away as gifts. Next spring, you can still place an order with a seed catalog if you want, but the point of saving seeds is that you won't have to buy new ones. Unless of course you'd like to experiment with a new variety-or several-and who could blame you?