Before the advent of big horticultural business, people would keep back some of each seasons seeds for sowing the next year. This might have been each village, farmer or stately home. One of the advantages of self saving is that you get seeds that are adapted to the local growing conditions, soil etc.
For the last 3 years we have been trying to grow more heirloom and heritage varieties of vegetables. One of the reasons we grow these is that they are usually open pollinated, and they grow true from saved seeds. This is unlike F1 cross plants that rarely grow true. We only grow one sort of cucumber (Wautoma) to reduce the risk of crossing. Tomatoes are generally self fertile and be safely saved.
It is really very straight forward to save beans and peas – leave on the plant until the pods are brown, pick, pod and dry in the house. However, there are a few other easy steps for tomatoes and cucumbers. These plants have a gelatinous coating that needs to be removed by a few days fermentation. Simply take the ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, cut them and squeeze the seeds and some of the pulp into clean jars.
After 3-5 days on the window sill the jars will be gently “fizzy” and have a slightly acidic smell. Don’t worry if they get a bit moldy on the surface. There should also be a good layer of seeds on the bottom of the jar – these are the good seeds and the bad ones float. Just add some water and swirl the jar a bit and then pour off the liquid – repeat until the jar is just water and seeds. Pour the seeds onto a plate and let them dry for an hour or two. When they are dry pop into labelled envelopes.
The advantage of this technique is that you can store seeds for a few years and they should still germinate. This year we have saved 4 varieties of tomato – Japanese Black Trifele, Purple Ukrain, a locally saved one known as Margret’s Black and the pretty orange Tangella, as well as the Wautoma cucumber. As you can see from the pictures, you get a good few seeds very easily.
The alternative is to simply pop seeds onto kitchen paper. Its easy but the seeds only stay viable for a short time – 1 or 2 years. However it is easy to cut them into strip and sow in seed trays.
We are part of a local group of seed savers in Stroud, part of the Down to Earth Stroud Community Interest Company.