Seed saving is a practice as old as humankind. George Washington supposedly thought it was “disreputable” for farmers to buy seeds every year. If you want to save seeds from one year to the next, you need to grow open-pollinated varieties (not hybrids) and know if a plant is self-pollinating or if wind or insects pollinate it. If it is self-pollinating, seeds are usually easy to save, and the plants the next year will look just like the parent plant. If plants are pollinated by wind or insects, they can be cross-pollinated, which means next year’s plant will be a surprise as it will be a cross between the two parent plants. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve eaten volunteer squash that grew out of our kitchen compost pile (a cold pile), and they have been incredibly tasty and beautiful.
When to pick?
You really can’t pick a green bean too early, but you can definitely pick them too late. Once you see the seeds bulging through the skin of the pod, they will probably be stringy and tough if eaten as green beans, so leave them on the plant to continue maturing and then harvest them in the fall after they have dried and turned brown. After shelling the beans, decide how many to save for planting the following year, and cook the rest.
You can save the dried beans in canning jars with lids. To be certain the beans are completely dry, spread them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and leave them in an out-of-the-way spot for a couple of weeks. If you notice mold starting to grow on seeds in a jar, you might be able to save them if you take them out of the jar immediately and put them in a single layer to dry more. Lettuce, peas, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are also self-pollinated, so saving seeds is easy with them. Although cross-pollination is not impossible, it can still happen, so if you are planning to save seeds, plant the different varieties in different sections of your garden rather than side by side.
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