Saving seeds comes naturally to most people with a garden.
When you see a plant bloom and go to seed, instinct kicks in and you know to find a bag or container to clip the seed pods into it. Of course some plants have more obvious seeds than others. For example, Cosmos grow into a tall jumbly mess with flowers in all stages at all times. It can be hard to see the spiky little black seeds amongst the foliage and bright flowers. On the other hand, Roselle pods, which are big on the lanky plant stem, dry up and crack open to reveal dark seeds inside.
There are many ways of looking at saving seeds. It can be a hobby, a business, out of curiosity, to save heirloom or rare varieties, to stock up for next season or to be independent of seed companies.
I personally don’t attempt to save enough seeds to be independent. My full time job is growing vegetables, making other projects such as saving seeds side jobs. Most of the time I save whatever I can when the timing is right. Sometimes I save certain seeds out of curiosity. For example, I’ve read that Sunn Hemp (a cover crop I use to add Nitrogen to the soil and fight nematodes) doesn’t produce seed reliably. That is one of the reasons why it is an expensive cover crop seed. On a whim, in a corner of the garden I decided to allow some Sunn Hemp to flower and go to seed. It is a legume so it makes pods similar to peas and beans. When they are dry, the small seeds rattle around inside the thin walled, fuzzy pods. To check for readiness I shake the plants and listen for the distinct rattle, which sounds a lot like a Rattlesnake. I’m curious how much I can collect from a small planting. This seed is not produced in South Florida commercially, but it is considered one of the best cover crops for our area. Most of it is produced in Hawaii. If I get a good crop, I might consider trying to produce my own cover crop seed in the future.
Last season I saved enough seeds of a few of my favorite plants to package and sell them. I have Mustard, Loofah and Pigeon Peas. All of these plants are very hardy, fast growing and extremely well acclimated to South Florida. I sell them at the South Miami Farmers’ Market.
I think seed saving is fun and I always learn more about a particular plant when I’ve seen it go through all of it’s stages. It’s a part of closing the circle of food production. Being able to know when seeds are ready to collect, how to store them and how to grow them the next season is a part of being a self-reliant farmer. It’s part of creating a sustainable system.