Basic Seed Saving
Written by Slim
How have all of our modern vegetable varieties come to be? Everyday folks kept saving the seeds of whatever they liked! Here are some basics to get you started in the realm of saving your own seed, and hopefully even some breeding. Just the very act of saving seed is breeding, but with a little thought and minimal effort, you can start to nudge things in the direction you want them to go. Keep at it long enough, and you can make your own varieties suited for your purposes, and more importantly, suited for your growing conditions.
Some truly excellent resources:
"Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners"
by Suzanne Ashworth & Kent Whealy
"Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving"
by Carol Deppe
Step 1, know your plants!
For our purposes here, there are two main groupings of plants; self-pollinating and cross-pollinating. And of course the tricky ones that like to sit somewhere in the middle. As a general rule, self-pollinating plants won't be mingling pollen with any other plant (onanists practically), and will produce offspring that are pretty much the same as the parent plants. Cross-pollinators however, thrive on mixing it up with others (just think of them as more sexually adventurous). It's easiest to lump your plants into these two categories, but in reality its more of a spectrum. Common "selfers" include: beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. Common "crossers" include: all the brassicas, corn, spinach, and beets. Fence sitters are best exemplified by the cucurbits; squash, melons, etc. are probably happiest when they're mixing it up, but don't really show any negative effects if you make them self-pollinate.
Let's start with the easier ones, yeah? Self-pollinators do all the work for you. Was that pepper you just ate spectacular? Quick grab the seeds from the compost before they get nasty and spread them out somewhere to dry. Then you keep them in a cool dry place until you can plant them next spring. Not bad, eh?