If your garden managed to survive the hot, dry, summer, it is time to save seeds for next year. Saving seeds is an economical way to garden from year to year, and it is the best way to preserve varieties that do well in your garden.
Seeds from open-pollinated plants are the only ones you can save and expect that they will produce the same plant again next year. Hybrid plants produce seeds that are sterile, or else do not reproduce plants identical to the parent plants because the original seeds were grown in forced circumstances. Open-pollinated plants produce fertile seeds that grow plants like the parents. Hybrid seeds usually have “F1” on the package; open pollinated ones may have “OP.” Plants labeled “heirloom” are not necessarily open-pollinated, and an “organic” designation has to do with the growing conditions of the plant that produce the seed, not whether or not the seed is open-pollinated or hybrid. If you know the particular variety of plant, but don’t know if it’s hybrid or not, try looking it up online or in seed catalogs.
To find flower seeds, allow blossoms to die and examine them. Various coverings contain the seeds depending on their method of dispersal. Some, like zinnias and daisies, are like flattish triangles and form in clusters in the cone in the middle of the flower. Others, like spider flower and annual salvias, are round or oval and form in pods. Butterfly weed, like the dandelion, attaches filmy white material to its seeds so that the wind carries them away, and poppies form seeds in little containers out of which the seeds pour like pepper from a peppershaker.
Seeds from tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables are generally inside the vegetable. Squeeze out the seeds and let them dry on a paper towel, then scrape them off and save them in a dry container. I wait for beans and okra to dry on the plant, and I open the pod and shake the seeds out into a container. Choose a container in which to remove the seeds from the pod. Shake the seeds loose from the pod while it is inside the container, and discard the pod. Some seeds, such as zinnia seeds, are difficult to separate from the dead flower; I pull off the dead petals, break apart the flower head, and save the whole thing for planting next year.
Allow the seeds to dry for a few days in a well-ventilated area. To store them, put them in an old medicine bottle or zip-top bag, and keep them in a dry, cool, place until it’s time to plant them next year. I usually save open-pollinated vegetable and herb seed, zinnia, annual salvia, cleome, poppy, larkspur, sweet William, foxglove, and columbine seed.
If you save seeds from perennials, you can sow the seeds in potting mix in a place where you can take care of the seedling all winter, preferably outdoors if you live in a suitable climate like I do, and get an extra 6 months of growth ahead. Just protect the seedling from temperatures in the teens and below by putting it in an unheated garage or similar space, or sow the seeds in a cold frame.