We save our heirloom seeds; mostly as a step towards self-sustainability--reducing our reliance on outside imports is a huge goal. It’s why we make our own compost, why we ferment our own fish extract, and why we got into growing our own food in the first place! We currently save our heirloom eggplant, pepper, and tomato seeds.
There are many more reasons to save seeds; during the 1900's there was a startling drop in the number of heirloom varieties due to lack of gardeners saving and trading their own seeds. When farmers rely on commercial seed companies, any seeds that sell slowly simply get dropped from production and disappear. Saving seeds is important for preserving genetic diversity.
This loss of varieties translates into lower genetic variability in our food plants. Lower variability means lower adaptability to stresses such as disease or climate change. Each time a seed variety is lost, we lose another chance to feed ourselves in a world of changing climate and shrinking resources. Saving seeds also helps retain plants´ pest resistance.
Every year we select plants that grow the happiest on our farm. Over time, we’ll eventually create our own strains of heirlooms that are acclimatized to our specific, local conditions at Rancho Buen Dia.
Each plant has a different was of harvesting its seeds; we harvest the tomatoes and peppers when they’re ripe, which means the seed is already mature. Saving pepper seeds is simply a matter of grabbing a ripe fruit, picking out the seeds, and letting them dry out before packing them into an envelope.
Tomatoes are only slightly more involved. Their seeds come encased in gel to help them pass through the digestive system of animals unharmed. To save them, we first have to mash the fruit in a bowl of water, let them ferment for a day or two, then drain the water, rinse the skin and tomato bits off, and dry them out.
When eggplants are ripe for eating, their seeds are still a little immature. So to save their seeds, we have to let the fruit ripen fully on the vine. Our heirloom Rosa Biancas are easy to spot when they are ripe: they turn from white with lavender stripes to yellow. Then, we cut them open and pick out the seeds, let them dry, and pack them away for planting time.
For a great article on the historical practice of seed-saving and breeding, we enjoyed this article from the New Yorker.