Collecting your own seeds from your vegetable garden is an easy way to save money and to save your favorite varieties for another season of successful growing. Some vegetables, like beets, are very hard to collect useful seeds from, and some vegetables like lettuce, and many other leafy green vegetables are biennial plants. This means that they do not seed until their second year. These vegetables should be avoided when looking to collect seeds as they are very tricky to keep thorough a full season, and it is unlikely that they will live long enough to go to seed.
Tomatoes, apples, pears, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables that are fleshy should be picked when they are fully ripe and meaty. Apples, pears, and other plants with hard meat can be cut open and the seeds can be directly removed from the meat and dried. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and plants with a softer meat, can be cut open and spread on a pan or baking sheet and placed in a warm place to dry, making it easier to extract the seeds later. Corn, beans, peas, or any other podded vegetables should be allowed to fully ripen and dry on the plant. Bean and pea seeds can be collected once the pods begin to crack open, and corn can be collected once the kernels have dried and begin to dimple.
Once you have your seeds collected, keep them in a cool, dry place, where they can be saved until the next planting season. Make sure that they do not get damp, and are best kept in a dark location to simulate their natural environment. When it is time to plant them the next year, germinate them before planting them in soil for best results. This also allows you to focus on the best seeds, and ensures you a greater yield in your vegetable garden. Make sure, that year to year, you are only collecting seeds from the strongest plants to ensure that you are saving the best seeds from your garden.
When the next year comes around, and it is time to sow your garden again, get your seeds out and begin planning your garden for a new year. During the planning stage of your vegetable garden, it is important to check the seeds you have saved from the past year, and ensure that they will still be viable. You can do this by germinating a few of them on a wet paper towel in a dark location indoors. If the seeds form a sprout or begin to grow after a few days, it is safe to assume that the seeds from that variety that you saved are still viable. You can also do small test pots indoors to plant a selection of seeds to perform the same test. As long as the seeds have remained in a cool, dry place indoors away from direct light or moisture, the seeds should be good to plant the next year. Once you have the seeds planted, it is time to enjoy your vegetable garden, and get ready to harvest the seeds again for another season.