If left to them their own devices, fleshy fruits naturally fall to the earth, where some of their seeds sprout when spring arrives again. Saving seeds from these plants mimics nature’s way—and it’s not at all difficult to do. But remember that only seeds from open-pollinated, not hybrid, plants will produce the same crop next year. (The packet that the original seeds arrived in will tell you whether the variety is open-pollinated or hybrid.) And, except for tomatoes, the plants shouldn’t be cross-pollinated by insects (which would happen if several varieties grew in the same area).
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Peppers are the easiest. The seeds are mature after the peppers have changed color, indicating final ripeness. Cut the peppers open, scrape out the seeds onto a plate—reserving the flesh for eating—and let the seeds dry in a nonhumid, shaded place, testing them occasionally until they break rather than bend. What could be simpler?
(Note: Dry all wet seeds on a glass or ceramic plate. Spread the seeds evenly over the surface of the plate and stir twice daily to ensure even drying and to keep them from clumping together. Don’t dry seeds on paper plates or paper towels—they’ll stick like glue. A food dehydrator set at 85 degrees works well, but don’t dry them in a warm oven or any place the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.)
Muskmelons, watermelons, and winter squash? Super easy. Cut muskmelons open, scoop the seeds into a strainer, rinse, and set out to dry. Watermelons are almost as easy. Put the seeds in a strainer and add a dash of dishwashing liquid to remove any sugar left on the seeds. Rinse and dry.
Winter squashes need to be carefully cut to expose the seed cavity. Don't cut straight through the center of the squash—you'll cut through some seeds, too. Just stick the knife in as far as necessary to cut through the flesh and move it around the circumference. (Be careful—some squashes will fight back!) Pull the seeds from the fibers, rinse, and dry. And don't cut a squash before you're ready to eat it—seeds can be saved from most winter squashes many months after harvest (although a few of the long-storage varieties may have sprouted seeds inside after six months or so).
To save the seeds of your eggplants,...