For generations farmers saved their own seeds. Yes, the seed houses have been around almost as long. But, when agriculture was still human sized it made more sense to save your own. First of all you can adapt your crop to your conditions. Have damp clay soil and a wilt or fungus problem to go with it? Hey, that plant over there was barely touched by it. Save the seeds from that one, maybe it will pass on it's resistance to the next generation. Got dry drought conditions? WOW, that plant looks better than the rest! Save the seeds! Hey, this tomato tastes so much better than the rest. Well, save the seeds fool. You get the idea. Tonight I saved some seeds. I took some pics. I'll show them to you, and you can do the same.
First thing you need to know. You need to have an open pollinated plant to begin with. That's a plant whose both parents were the same variety. Why, you may ask. It's in the genes my child, it's in the genes. If your plant in the seed catalog had "hybred", "hybrid", F1, F2, or F anything in it'd description, it had parents of two different varieties. The problem is, when you cross two varieties, you do so in the hopes of getting the best qualities of both in their offspring. You also sometimes get something referred to as "hybrid vigor". But, those genes, they want to do funny things in the third generation. Say for example you crossed a small yellow tomato that grew very fast, with a big tasty red tomato. The second generation you might get a big, fast growing, yellow tomato, that had the most awesome taste ever. The third generation, you might get a tiny, slow growing, low yielding, red tomato, with the flavor of corrugated cardboard. It's all in them silly genes, and some of them can hide for a generation or two.
So start by finding yourself a seed or two from either a commercial seed house or seed savers exchange. Make sure the description says "open pollinated" or "heirloom" in it. Grow those out. Watch everything as it grows the first year. Take notes. Now if you're like us, you picked half a dozen varieties to play with. And hopefully for your first try, you picked a plant that self pollinates like tomatoes. Plants that wind or insect pollinate, are a tad more difficult. Mainly because it's very easy to create a hybrid with wind or insects. Such plants take a little more work. So start with tomatoes. Save the corn and cucumbers for next year.
Ok, You have your 6 seed packets. Plant maybe ten plants of each. Label them well, there is nothing worse than wondering what it's name is later on when telling people about it. Now, when transplanting time comes, pick four of each to keep and give the rest away. Give each plant a number. Makes it easier to keep a log that way. Does one plant set fruit a little earlier than the other three. If you have a short growing season it helps to know that. Maybe one gives you 8lbs of tomatoes and the other three only give you 4lbs. Handy thing to know if you only have a small garden. Does one get sick? Write it in your log. You get the idea. Your giving yourself a reference point. Later you will pick fruit from the plants that best suit your growing requirements. Don't be surprised if at the end of the season, you only have one or two varieties that did well for you. That's fine, you will save seeds from those and next year you will grow those two plus four new ones.
Here we have a tomato called "Yellow Pear". A small salad type tomato, not your typical red cherry type. We grew these this year for the first time. Due to a few family things and a tight work schedule, we didn't get our plants in until just after memorial day this year. We were harvesting these in mid July in spite of the late start. We've had them several times a week since then. Today I picked nearly three gallons of ripe or nearly ripe fruit off two plants. They were still loaded with blossoms and setting fruit. If tonight wasn't going to be our first frost, I wouldn't be surprised if we had gotten another several gallons of fruit from them. On top of that they have excellent flavor. To start with you need fruit and a strainer of some sorts.
Squeeze the fruit until the seeds pop into your strainer. With meatier tomatoes, you will need to slice them and scrape out the seeds.
Rinse away as much of the pulp as you can. Again meatier tomatoes require more effort. With those it helps to push the pulp through with your fingers. You don't have to get it all. And remember if pushing the pulp through, those seeds can be delicate before they are dried.
Add the seeds to a jar filled half way with water. This varieties seeds are very small. So, I actually turned the strainer upside down over the jar, then filled the water through the strainer, washing the seeds into the jar. A tight fitting lid is wise to prevent spillage.
These will stay here for a week to a month. When a layer of white or black nasty stuff starts floating on them. They are ready for the next step.
No photo for this step. Set your jar in the sink. Remove the lid and slowly trickle water in until that layer of scum washes over the side. You don't want to stir the seeds up off the bottom. There may be seeds floating in the scum. Let them wash away, they are dead seeds and won't grow.
After you get the scum off. Drain your seeds through your strainer again. Spread them out so they aren't touching on a piece of wax paper. Put the wax paper in an out of the way place for several weeks until they have a chance to dry out. A fan place well away from the seeds is o.k.. Just keep it on low and as far away as possible. You just want to help evaporate the water. You don't want to blow them away, or blow the paper over, dumping your hard earned seeds. Store the dried seeds in a paper envelope. Paper envelpes breathe and mold won't form on your seeds. As you can see, these are a different variety. This tomato called "Bloody Butcher" is an old favorite of mine. I've been growing it for almost 10 years now.
So, there you have it. Not rocket science. But, for the pre industrial age farmer, a skill that was a necessity