Seed saving is such an easy way to get FREE seeds for next years garden. This year seeds were sold out pretty much anywhere they can be sold, so knowing how to save seeds is more important now than ever.
There are some things you need to consider when saving seeds though, so let's talk some plant sex and science.
Cross-pollination in plants means pollen from a male flower must go to a female flower in order for the flower to be pollinated and form fruit. The female flower is the one that has the fruit on the stem.
The flower below on the left is a female flower, as it is attached to the fruit. The flower on the right is a male flower and is attached only to a stem.
Plants that cross-pollinate:
The list is longer but these are the ones I am familiar with.
If you save seeds from plants that require cross pollination for the fruit to form, you may not get the exact same species of plant that you got the seed from. This is because the male pollen could have come from any plant and you will get a plant that is a cross between whatever plant the male pollen came from and the female plant.
Let me give you an example, say I have green zucchini growing next to my golden zucchini and a bee takes pollen from the golden zucchini and pollinates the green zucchini. If I save the seeds from that green zucchini, the resulting plant will be some sort of cross between the golden and green zucchini, not a green zucchini.
Self-pollination is the pollination of a flower by pollen from the same flower.
Plants that self-pollinate:
Self-pollination can result in a cross of next generation plants as well if pollen from a nearby plant makes it way to the flower of the plant you are collecting seeds from. If a bee lands on the tomato plant next door and comes over and pollinates another variety of tomato the seed from that tomato will produce a plant that is a combination of the two not the same plant you got the seeds from. So you have to keep that in mind when saving seeds also.
For plants like peas and beans that self-pollinate, there is a very small chance of the seeds being some sort of funky hybrid caused by cross-pollination.
Now let's talk heirloom versus hybrid plants. Heirloom plants (assuming no cross-pollination occurred) will produce an identical plant to that in which the seed came from. Heirloom means, the plants have been passed down from generation to generation, keeping their original characteristics and never cross breeding.
Hybrid plants on the other hand may not be the same plant as the fruit you get the seeds from even if no cross-pollination occurs. Hybrid means, two different plants were bred to create a new generation of plant, sungolds are an example of a hybrid tomato plant. The first generation hybrid plant is called an F1, and should have equal (or a specific percentage according to the breeder) characteristics of each parent plant it came from. Here is where it gets tricky, if you take seeds from this hybrid plant creating a second generation, or F2 plant, it will not necessarily be the same plant that you grew. It may have more of the "mother" genes than the "father" or vice versa. (It can also be illegal to save these seeds).
Once you understand the science of seed saving, and accept that the seeds you save may not produce the exact plant you have imagined, it is time to get to it! Who knows, you may discover some crazy hybrid plant that is even better than the one you thought it was going to be.
Be on the lookout for a series of blog posts on how to save specific types of seeds, the first up will be calendula.