Some gardeners choose to save seeds from their gardens rather than purchase seeds or transplants at the store. While the convenience of shopping could outweigh the act of saving seeds throughout the year, there’s no reason to not do both.

Unfortunately, 90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago have disappeared. The seed-saving movement has been growing as gardeners realize that many heirloom varieties are in danger of the same fate unless they work together to save and share those seeds. Additionally, saving seed is a great way to garden on a budget.

To start a garden in the spring, buy a packet of seeds or transplants. Some of those plants will produce seeds, which could be saved and planted again for free. Family members may have favorite flowers or plants at their homes. Seed saving is a great way to deepen that connection with relatives by taking home a piece of their gardens.

The seeds also make great gifts for neighbors, friends or local community gardens. By saving seeds, there is personal control over food supplies, which could increase self-reliance. That could be a very powerful tool and a skill to share with others.

Some aspects of gardening are best done in baby steps. Don’t try to save seeds from every plant in the garden to contribute to the cause of seed saving. Everyone has to figure out what works best for them. Try saving some pepper seeds from the garden this year. Next year, collect from friends or purchase new heirloom seed varieties that may be of interest to save. Grow from there as it fits into a gardening lifestyle.

Keep in mind that not all seed can or should be saved. When it comes to saving seeds as a beginner, collect from plants that are open-pollinated (OP), self-pollinated or heirlooms – not hybrids. The easiest seeds to produce and save are self-pollinated because varieties are not being crossed with each other; however, if OP plants could be kept from crossing with each other, the seeds would produce plants true to type – much like the self-pollinated plants.

Find the plants in the garden that have desirable traits – larger yields, disease resistance, better tasting fruits, better bloom color, etc. By saving the seed from best-performing plants, varieties will gradually develop with improved traits that are better adapted to specific soil, climate and growing conditions.

Label the plants in the garden with a tag that notes why its important to save their seeds. The easiest crops to grow and produce seeds include peas, beans, peppers, flowers and lettuce. These plants are annuals and are self-pollinating. They require little to no isolation from other plants, and only a few plants are needed to reliably produce seeds.

How to know when seeds are ready for collection

Seeds are collected either wet or dry. For some vegetables, such as squash or cucumbers, the seeds are encased in the fruit. These are called “wet fruits.” Let the fruits stay on the plant to mature. The fruits will be overgrown and way past market maturity. Seed maturity takes time, so the fruit won’t be good to eat.

Cut open the fruit and remove the seeds from the flesh. Lay the seeds out to dry on a sheet of newspaper. Other crops, like beans and dill, have dry seeds that can be removed from seedpods. Wait until a dry and sunny day to clip the seedpods from the plant. Waiting to remove the seeds from the pods allows for further drying.

Saving seeds from flowers is a similar process to the “dry fruits.” Cut off the seed heads from the plants once they have changed from green to brown. They are ready when the seed heads can be easily split apart.

Store the seeds in airtight containers once they are dried and keep them in a cool, dark, dry place. The refrigerator or freezer is a great place for storing seeds. Label the containers to keep track of the varieties and harvest dates. Avoid using plastic bags to store seeds, as trapped moisture could promote spoilage. Seeds could be stored for up to two years, but note that germination rates will decrease the older the seeds get.

Seed saving is a valuable skill that can benefit gardeners in more ways than one. Whether looking to shave a few dollars off a garden budget or carry on the tradition of growing grandma’s favorite vegetable variety, take part in the seed-saving movement all the same.

Happy gardening!

~ Sidney Hancock is farm manager of New Water Farms in Dadeville.