Seeds need to be admired. Why should evolution have sculpted such exquisite, complex forms just for the purpose of creating a new plant? Surely a simple blob would have done? I am forever in admiration of these tiny creations, and at Garden Organic we've an entire Heritage Seed Library dedicated to the rarest of them.
As the season would have it, now is the time to save your own complex 'blobs' as the seed harvest is in full crop. Seed saving is a lot easier than you might think, although a note of caution: avoid saving seed from F1 hybrids as their parentage is complex and what you get next year won't be what you had this year!
My advice would be to start with tomatoes - the perfect plant for a seed saver, as you can save the seed and still eat the majority of the fruit. This is also true of marrows and squashes but, very conveniently, tomatoes are self-pollinating whilst squashes are not. This plant that produces such buxom fruit is so shy that it will not share its body with any other. Whereas squashes show no discrimination, happily offering their flowers to any pollen and therefore cross-pollinating like there's no tomorrow!
Saving tomato seed is just so easy. Scoop out the fleshy, seed-laden heart and squish it up in lots of water. Once you have sieved away most of the pulp, tip the remaining seed on to a saucer to dry. I once made the mistake of using loo paper. The seed stuck fast and had to be sown with loo paper intact. How ignominious!
Runner bean seeds
Equally easy are French beans, climbing or dwarf, and peas. Let the pods mature on the plant and take the seed out once the pods are dry and brittle. My 'Kew Blue' bean plants at home have bits of wool attached, not for artistic effect but to tag the pods I am going to save. If you don't you will invariably eat the seed harvest by mistake. French beans are hugely productive, so leaving a few pods shouldn't be a hardship.
If, like many people you sowed your lettuces to crop all at the same time then you've probably got a yellow haze of lettuce in flower in your garden. The solution to this 'faux pas' is to save the seed for next year. As long as there are no other lettuce varieties doing the floral dance nearby you should get true seed. To collect it, ensure the seed head is a fluffy mass of tiny umbrellas, each attached to a seed. You don't need much seed, so pinch a few off and rub them into a dry metal sieve to remove the fluff or pull off the tassels in your fingertips.
It's strange that such seminal moments in the garden should come at the end of the season as, to me, seed saving is not about the end, but all about the promise of the beginning.
Bob Sherman is Chief Horticultural Officer of Garden Organic, the UK's leading authority on organic growing. A major focus of the charity's work is to collect, and conserve endangered vegetable varieties through its Heritage Seed Library.