Beginner’s Guide to Seed Saving

Seed saving is an easy and fun way to connect with the circle of life.

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seed saving, saving your seedsThings are getting round and ripe in your garden. That means it’s time to think about saving seeds from your best tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and melons.

If left to themselves, these fleshy fruits would naturally fall to the earth, where some of their seeds would sprout when spring arrives again. Saving seeds from these plants mimics nature’s way—and it’s not at all difficult to do.

But remember, only seeds from open-pollinated, not hybrid, plants will produce the same crop next year. (The packet that the seeds came from will tell you whether the variety is open-pollinated or hybrid.) And, except for tomatoes, the plants shouldn’t be cross-pollinated by insects (which would happen if several varieties grew in the same area). Such saved seeds might grow into something that resembles the parent, or something tough and tasteless.

Tomatoes are self-pollinating. So if you avoid hybrid varieties, you’ll be able to grow the same tomato next year from seeds you save this year—even if different varieties were grown close together. That’s not the case with peppers and eggplants. Their flowers can be cross-pollinated by insects, so different varieties of these must be separated by 500 feet for the seeds to be pure.

Cucurbits—such as squash, cucumbers, gourds, and melons—need even more personal space. All of these garden favorites must be pollinated by insects. So unless close relatives (of the same species) are separated by a half-mile or more, you’ll get a surprise if you grow the seeds.

For example, a zucchini and an acorn squash (both Cucurbita pepo) in the same garden will cross, thanks to pollinating insects. And the seeds probably won’t produce a replica of either parent plant. But if you’re growing zucchini and a butternut squash (C. moschata) in the same garden, you can save the seeds from each and expect to have your plants come up true to type when you plant them next year, since they are different species.

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