Saving seeds

Each January or February gardeners all over flock to their Burpee; Ferry Morse or other miscellaneous seed catalog and make up their lists of this years plants. 
Some may decide to purchase an actual plant or some might actually buy the seeds and start the seeds by themselves. 
Heck some would be gardeners out there might, on a nice, warm, Spring day get hit by the planting bug and head on over to their local Home Depot or Lowes to search for a few fruit or veggie plants to fill up a pot or a lonely spot in their yard. 
In the past I've done this.  As a matter of fact this year we bought all seeds rather than just buying the plants.
Now if you do the math, even buying a plant is a good investment as you'll most likely get fresh, homegrown tomatoes, bell peppers or maybe some herbs all summer long. 

Most likely the best and most frugal way to really make your plants work for you is to simply save your seeds each year.
Now I say "simply" however there is a bit more to saving seeds than just grabbing a tomato off the plant and then putting them in a plastic bag.  The amusing thing about my saying that is that is exactly what I used to try to do! 
Then the next season I would really wonder why my seeds never came up so I gave up and would go right back to purchasing the $20 to $50 in plants or seeds from Burpee, Home Depot or even sometimes a local Nursery. 

This year, my husband and I are really trying to turn over a new leaf and become more independent from the whole thing so we've really dedicated ourselves to this.  Of course that means I've had to do a bit of research.
First thing, out of everything I have read the number one issue was seed storage.  Little Plastic Baggies labeled with permanent marker just won't do it.  First it doesn't really let the seeds breathe.  There are a lot of opinions all over the web but from what I've read the absolute best way to store seeds is in some sort of jar or container.  If you want to save a bit of money you can store them in a labeled paper envelope however I'd be worried that the seeds would fall out later.  I've had that happen before with a package of St Johns Wort.  I was working with my plants and had all my seed envelopes out with me and obviously that envelope flipped over.  Imagine my surprise later that June when I found a large collection of St Johns Wort suddenly blooming in my yard!
So instead I may end up going with something like this that I found at Amazon
Darice 2025-251 Clear Bead Container with 24 Storage Jars

Darice 2025-251 Clear Bead Container with 24 Storage Jars

I won't be actually buying this until much later into the season as I don't need it yet, even though I do have a large box with a bunch of seeds in it sitting annoyingly on my dining room table.  Thankfully we haven't had company over for dinner lately!

So, onto actually collecting the seeds and preparing them for storage.  In my experience the easiest ones by far to harvest and store has been Cilantro, Lettuce, and Arugula.
These three tend to bolt pretty early in the season if its been warm.  I usually just allow most of them to fully dry while still attached to the plant and then collect them in a small bowl. 
Lettuce and Arugula you have to be very careful with if you want to do this because the seed pods will be dry and very breakable.  If you accidentally break the seed pod you'll scatter the seeds very easily.  That's fine if you just want them to reseed themselves but not so good if you want to save them for another season.

Bell Peppers are rather simple.  When selecting the vegetables only choose the ripest ones.  Simply slice the bell pepper open, harvest the seeds and then allow to dry on a paper towel.  Remember, you never want to put your seeds directly into any kind of container without drying them first! 

Summer Squash in my opinion have almost the same amount of ease as bell peppers do. 
As always, the vegetables you select should be over ripe.  This ensures that you are most likely getting seeds that will germinate the next year. 
Squash seeds do not usually have a slimy coating however if you do find some of them with it just wash the seeds enough to clean off any meaty or slimy remains. 
This more or less also applies to Winter Squash however of course remember, with Winter Squash you'll find a bit more of that slimy coating on the seeds so they'll need a bit more of a wash. 

Cucumbers & Tomatoes are a bit different.  When harvesting Cucumber seeds it's best to let certain individual cucumbers to ripen to the point where they are OVER ripe.  You want to allow the cucumber to get fully to the point where it is yellowed, inedible and almost split in half.  This allows the seeds to fully mature. 
Then take the cucumber inside. Separate the seeds from their coating by soaking them overnight in warm (not hot) water. If the coating isn't gone by morning, gently rub the seeds between your fingers to remove what is left.
For Tomatoes once again you need to make sure the tomato that you will be using for your seed harvest is fully ripe.  Not rotten but very soft.  Remember, this tomato you will not be eating.  This one will only serve possibly two uses.  Seed saving and possibly organic material for your compost.  (If you are using the remains of the tomato in your compost make sure to remove ALL seeds prior to throwing the remains in there.  You don't want tomatoes growing in your compost pile) 
Like cucumber seeds, tomato seeds are encased in a gelatinous coating.  Slice the tomatoes and squeeze the seeds out into a bowl. Add water, and let this mixture stand for several days at room temperature in an out-of-the-way place, stirring it occasionally. Mold will form on the surface of the water, how quickly this mold will develop depends on the temperature; in a house at a temperature of 70° F, three days should more than suffice. The pulp and worthless seeds will rise to the surface, and can be skimmed off along with the mold. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom, where they can be strained and rinsed.

When it comes to drying, you may be tempted to put any of these seeds next to a heat source or even possibly use a dehydrator.  Don't! 
Using any sort of heat source to dry these will result in dead seeds.  No good for your garden next year!
I've found in the past that the best way is to simply leave the washed off seeds on a paper towel in an area that has a nice draft or breeze.  You can use alternative ways like maybe putting the seeds on a screen or some other light material that will allow air to circulate but no matter what you want to avoid keeping them anywhere that is warmer.
If your seeds end up sprouting, of course, toss em.  They're not going to be any good for you next season and if you are saving your seeds I would imagine it's already pretty late in the season.

If you do end up using containers make sure these are not completely airtight.  You need a bit of air to get to the seeds.  Also, to discourage mold you can add dehydrated milk to the seeds for a bit.  That tends to suck up some of the moisture. 
Once your seeds are dried and stored in whichever container you choose just simply put them in a nice, cool, DRY environment and leave them there until next year when you begin deciding which plants to start and when to start them. 

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