If you grow heirloom vegetables you can save your own seeds. There are several reasons to save seeds in addition to saving money. For instance, by saving your own you can get the chance of picking from your favorite plants and perhaps ultimately breeding a special variety of your own. Also, it can be fun to trade seeds with other gardeners (there are several sites for exchanging seeds such as Daves Garden and Heirloom Seed Swap.) There are several very good web resources with information on how to correctly save seeds from most types of garden vegetables. Refer to these for the ‘right’ way to do things or keep on reading for the way I save seeds (i.e. the lazy way.)
Beans & Peas:
The very easiest types of seeds to save are from legumes such as peas and beans. Simply let them grow out on the vine until the pod becomes dry and papery and the inner beans are large and hardened. Do not mature more than one or two beans, per any one vine, however, or the vine will stop producing more peas/beans! Remove these beans and let them dry further by placing on a paper towel in a safe place indoors (if outdoors make sure they don’t get rained on). Put them in an envelope for next spring (don’t forget to label!).
Technically you are supposed to ferment tomato seeds before drying and saving them. The fermentation process removes the germination-inhibiting gel which covers the seeds and also helps prevent future diseases. Fermenting requires taking the tomato pulp and mixing with water and putting it up in a jar until moldy before removing the sees. Or you can do what I do and find those tomatoes that the squirrels have already taken a bite out of and left to rot on the ground. Either way is yucky as you know it has fermented when there is a fine white mold on the pulp. Then I just wash off the seeds and dry on a paper towel. I don’t worry that the seeds stick to the paper as long as I separate them enough because next spring when I plant them it is just as easy to cut out little squares of paper with the seed and plant the whole thing together. In fact this makes it easier to see the seed and know that you have only planted on seed per pot. And you can label with permanent marker right on the paper towel. Easy!
These are super easy, just let the peppers dry on the plant and remove the now-dried (brown) seeds. If you are harvesting hot peppers be careful to wash your hands thoroughly or you will be sorry, especially if you end up wiping your eyes!!
This is another seed that should ferment first. Of course you can do what I do and wait until after Halloween is long over and take those now squishy, rotting pumpkins and throw them somewhere will they will happily ferment but not freeze over the winter (e.g. behind the compost or near the house). Next year you will find the little buggers happily sprouting and if you are not fast enough transplanting them you will soon have huge pumpkin vines trailing over your lawn.
Of course you can try saving seeds from many other veggies but consult the handbook because a plant like cucumber tends to cross-pollinate between varieties and if you grow more than one you have to keep them separated to gather seeds true to either variety. In other words, if you grow more than one variety of cucumber in your garden the seeds you save will likely grow into an hybridized variety, which will probably have bitter or inedible fruit. Also, I have found many types of greens, grains and flowers self-seed and I no longer bother saving the seeds. I just till the soil in the spring to give them a little light and air and before you know it there are tiny mustard-greens, amaranth, echinacea and rudebeckia growing all over the garden. Then the only job is to transplant the seedlings elsewhere or find someone to take them--but that’s a discussion for next spring.