As we approach fall, some of a gardener’s time is spent on seed saving. Many of my fellow gardeners grow plants that have their origins with their family and friends and that have been growing in their yards for many years. What true gardener has not brought back seeds with them from their home town and home countries?
Old time, or heritage seeds, are the best candidates for seed saving. The seeds saved from heritage varieties will be true to their origins and produce a new plant identical to its parent plant. This is not true of hybrid seeds, which are the basis of many modern day gardens. Having several varieties of similar plants growing close to each other could also result in the new seeds being a cross of two varieties. The easiest to cross, possibly, are pumpkins and zucchini. These two plants, grown side by side, will easily cross with the resulting plant being a green, zucchini shaped pumpkin.
Not all crosses are bad. Often, crosses produce some new colours, growing habits and flavours. Last winter, a neighbour gave us a greenhouse tomato plant. It was bred to produce a small split-proof fruit that ripened in the lower light conditions of February. One of these tomatoes fell off and landed in the pot below where it produced a great number of seedlings. I took two of these seedlings and they grew to produce large, very meaty, split-prone tomatoes.
Diligent seed savers take care to make sure their seed comes from plants that avoid these cross pollinating situations. All of the Italian gardeners to whom I have talked, have at least one or more plants that have a long pedigree. Asking the variety name usually results in the name of the person who gave the gardener the seed or the town from where it came. Romano beans and Chicoria were two items passed on to our family by the Mattioda family, hence they were always referred to as Mattioda beans and Mattioda lettuce.
Perhaps the plant with the oldest history in an Italian garden is garlic. Although garlic seeds can be used for propagation, it takes two years to produce a cloved head. The most common procedure is to save one’s best garlic heads for replanting in October. Paste tomatoes are probably the most shared seeds among our fellow gardeners. Chicoria often self seeds, ensuring each spring a fresh supply of greens.
To the Italian gardener, seed saving goes beyond the money saved. It is considered a very important and an integral part of their gardening. A phrase that is very common these days, is to “know where your food comes from”. Saving ones own seeds ensures that we know exactly from where that food item comes. There is also the Italian gardeners sense of pride, pride in the produce they grow, pride in being self-sufficient and pride in sharing those seeds with family and friends. Pride is the very essence of the Italian garden.
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening