Gardeners can save seed from all of their heirloom varieties of plants to use the following year, trade to other gardeners or preserve unique specimens. Saving seed from your heirloom crops cuts the cost of gardening. Gardeners may potentially only need to buy seed once, selecting and retaining the best examples from the crops grown to secure an ongoing source of future seed. Consider both the condition and performance of the plant itself and the vegetables produced when making your seed choices.
'Cherokee Trail of Tears' is a pole bean with green to red pods striped in purple. The plant is a heavy producer over a long season of growth. The black seeds of this bean, as with other heirloom beans, can be saved. Bean seeds may be used for up to three years after collection. According to Clemson University Extension, beans are one of the self-pollinating crops, meaning the seeds will produce a plant that is like the parent plant. Heirloom growers are doing all gardeners a favor by helping keep these lesser-known, older varieties in circulation, preserving genetic diversity.
'Corno di Toro' peppers take 78 days to mature and grow in the shape of a bull’s horn. These sweet peppers--practically made for stuffing--ripen to a red or yellow color. Peppers are also self-pollinating. Gardeners should be aware that some instances of cross-pollination do occur between hot and mild varieties, so these types should be separated to keep seed true. Pepper seed remains viable from three to five years when saved under cool, dry conditions. The University of Illinois Extension reminds seed savers to harvest mature seed. This means allowing a vegetable to remain on the vine until the seeds themselves ripen, usually turning a shade of brown.
'Mortgage Lifter' is an indeterminate tomato variety with the ability to produce a large tomato in varying shades of red. Maturity occurs in 60 to 83 days and the fruit is described as meaty, flavorful and abundant. Tomato seeds should be processed by wet cleaning. The University of Illinois Extension recommends soaking the seed for up to four days in a small amount of warm water, stirring them daily. This will ferment the seeds and destroy damaging viruses. Collect the seeds that sink to the bottom of the container and allow them to air dry before storing. Tomato seed stays good for three to five years. Heirloom seeds are often not available through popular seed catalogs. Gardeners can expand on their available choices by contacting local, regional and national seed saver groups.