The answer is “yes” and “no.”
It can be done, but if you don’t know what you are doing, you may end up wasting your time and effort.
The key to successful seed saving lies in knowing what crops and varieties bear seed that is likely to produce plants that are similar to the parent plants. After all, the idea behind saving tomato seeds is to get good quality tomatoes to eat.
The first rule of seed saving is not to save seed from hybrid plants. Hybrid seed is produced through controlled pollination using two specific varieties that have been crossed to produce a plant with particular traits. Seed saved from hybrid plants may revert back to the undesirable traits of the parent plants and may not look or taste like the fruit that they were collected from. Some good examples of this type of hybrid are some of the new super-sweet corn varieties.
The second rule is to be careful not to save seed from plants that may have cross-pollinated in your garden. Some plants will not cross-pollinate, but many can, and the fruit produced from their seed can look and taste strange. For example, a summer squash can easily cross with a pumpkin.
If you want to save seed from your garden, the best plants are standard varieties of beans, lettuce, peas and tomatoes. The seed collection process is fairly easy on pod crops, like peas. Just leave them on the vine until the pod dries, but be sure to harvest them before the seeds start to fall out.
Tomato seeds can be collected by allowing the fruit’s pulp to ferment with a little water in a bowl for a few days, after which the seeds can be strained off and dried. Seeds can usually be dried by placing them on paper towels or a piece of newspaper for a few days. After seeds are completely dry, they should be stored in an air-tight container. Once they are in the container, many gardeners like to store them in the freezer or refrigerator until the following spring.
One of the most important steps of the process is to be sure the fruit you are collecting the seed from is completely mature. Seed from immature fruit will not germinate or start growing well when planted.
Although it usually pays the home gardener to buy seed from a reputable seed dealer each year, saving seed can be enjoyable and very rewarding, especially if you are dealing with varieties that have been handed down for generations in your family or community.
Norman Edwards is coordinator of Walker County Extension Service.