|Organic cantaloupe from Better Farm's garden, chock-full of seeds ready for saving.|
An important note before we start: Most supermarkets carry hybrid fruits like cantaloupes (cucumis meo var. cantalupensis) and the seeds are often sterile. Open-pollinated seeds, however, have no problem reproducing. For this same reason, you want to be careful not to plant many different kinds of the same plant as they are likely to fertilize each other! In order to know which seeds are worth saving, consider the following information we gleaned from Mother Earth Living:
GM seeds, or genetically modified seeds, are seeds that have been created under artificial conditions to meet a specific list of criteria, usually resistance to a package of pesticides and herbicides sold with them. The home gardener is not likely to come across this type of seed because at the moment GM seed is mostly confined to large-scale commercial agriculture. GM seeds are also patented, which means you cannot legally reproduce it unless you pay the maker a royalty. Without belaboring the arguments pro or con about GM seeds, you should avoid buying any seeds that are patented. Most seed packets will state very clearly whether they contain patented material.
Another type of patented seeds are the F1 hybrids, crosses between different plant species. You cannot save seeds from hybrids because they will not grow true to type. Hybrids are common in seed catalogs everywhere and must be listed as such. After World War II, a few seed companies got the lucrative idea that F1 hybrids were better than traditional seeds and thus began to market them based on perceived benefits, primarily that the cross would have some special trait, such as wilt resistance. More importantly (to the companies marketing them), because you cannot save seeds from F1 hybrids, you have to keep buying new seed. F1 hybrids eventually lose their special traits, and companies must create new ones every few years to adjust for this decline. The seedless watermelon is a good example. It is a patented food because the seeds have been bred out, which is not natural, and the cross is not stable. Indeed, it will produce no viable seed.
A third type of seed—and the only one you can save—is old-fashioned open-pollinated seed. This means that nature did the pollinating: bees, wind, birds, dew or rain. These seeds are the most “natural,” with no intervention by humans, and can be further divided into heirlooms and nonheirlooms. Heirloom varieties have been around for several generations and have thus proven their worth; they are true hand-me-downs like the tasty and attractive ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon developed in the 1920s. Nonheirlooms are more recent open-pollinated plants, such as the ‘Green Zebra’ tomato developed in the 1980s, that are heading toward the heirloom category.