‘Know where your food comes from’ is a common phrase these days. Many Italian gardeners know exactly this, because many of them still grow the exact fruit and vegetables their grandparents, friends or neighbours grew. Last October, in this column, I wrote about seed saving and the Italian gardener. Let me expand on this.
Seed saving and plant propagation were activities that were incorporated into our daily lives. If one were eating a particularly tasty peach, the stone would be placed into an out of the way spot, tended to and eventually moved or given away to a friend. A similar story when one would see a neighbour's great looking tomatoes… ask for some seeds for your next year’s garden.
In the early years, on our family farm, seed saving played an important role for several crops. Pimento peppers were the most important pepper crop for our Italian families. Every year we would plant a dozen or so Pimento Pepper plants away from any other peppers (to avoid cross pollination). These peppers were allowed to come to full maturity before they were picked and the seeds saved. Similarly, the best garlic heads were not sold, but saved to plant again the next fall. In our home garden we had a Romano bean that we particularly enjoyed. It was given to us by the Mattioda family and so, was thusly named. The same for an Italian lettuce that was allowed to grow under our Hazelnut trees… it gave us a lettuce that was mixed with dandelion greens to give us a taste of early spring. Potatoes followed a similar pattern… save a few, cut them up and plant them in the spring and the cycle continued. Many farming families regularly saved grain for their next year’s crop. Today, through hybridization and genetic modifications, much of this is not possible.
Seed Saving is a relatively simple procedure. This from an article ‘Saving seeds for the future’: (https://italoamericano.org/saving-seeds/) “Begin your seed bank by placing well dried seeds in little plastic, sealable bags. With wet seeds such as tomatoes and squash, wash them first; then dry them on sheets of newspaper for two weeks. Place the seeds in little airtight, plastic sealable-packets. Be sure to label them with an indelible marker. Or, you can use tiny plastic or glass jars to hold the seeds. I use both plastic packets and tiny jars. Now, place the jars in a tupper-ware sealable container. The seed packets could also be placed in a large plastic ziplock bag. The main concern is to keep the seeds dry (think Svalbard). Your refrigerator temperature will hold the seeds at about 35F which is sufficient to save the seeds for a long time, far beyond the following year when you will want to plant them. I have seeds from 15-20 years ago, and many are still viable.”
I harvest far too many seed heads for practical purposes. But, I have turned this in to an advantage. During October, I turn this collection into small bouquets that I bring to the cemetery on All Souls Day on November 2.
Plant propagation also played an important role in our family. Budding and grafting were common practices with some of my great aunts and uncles. ‘Fruit salad trees’, that are quite common these days, were regular features for years in some Italian gardens. The best fruits were combined on one tree. All of the peach and apricot trees in our garden were from neighbours or relatives’ seedlings that they had saved. Geraniums have always been part of our family gardens. Each autumn, cuttings have been taken, cared for during the winter and replanted in the spring. My American Beauty coloured geranium is still the original from my Nonna. So, as well as some possible cost saving, some of my practices I continue today are intrinsic and bring many fond memories.
SAVING SEEDS FOR THE FUTURE May 22, 2013
Seed Saving Workshop - Italian Cultural Centre
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening