Tag Archive | heirlooms

Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.


For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.

Our Vegetable Inheritance

downloadAmong food and garden lovers alike, the current buzzword for value is heirloom, a very good description of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms can be saved year after year, and although we always think of the word as extending toward the past, it’s just as relevant to the future: heirlooms aren’t just what our great-grandparents grew, they are also the varieties we can leave to our great-grandchildren.

Heirlooms are most famous for offering great flavor and for enabling the gardener to “grow your own” from start to finish. But they offer a lot more than freedom from the need to buy seed every year.

Adaptability, for instance. Heirlooms are the special province of individuals and of small, regional seed companies, who do not need to sell zillions of packets in order to make a profit; and that means they tend to be better attuned to specific local conditions (drought in the Southwest, humidity in the Southeast, cold in the North) than “one size fits all” hybrids.

Hybrids are created through carefully controlled parentage, and as a result they are uniform. Every plant will be about the same size, and it will bear its fruit in the same narrow time frame. These characteristics are important to the mechanized operations of commercial growers, but they don’t do much for home gardeners.

And though hybrid varieties are often disease resistant, they are identically so. If a disease strikes that they cannot resist, every single plant will suffer.

Heirlooms, on the other hand, are individuals. Even when they are grown from seeds that came in the same packet, each plant is subtly different from every other. They grow and ripen unevenly, so you get a longer harvest period. And they are unevenly vulnerable to diseases. When trouble strikes, some plants will no doubt be afflicted, but others may come through.

All this is not to say there’s no place for hybrids, but hybrids are not in danger. It’s heirlooms that rely on home gardeners for their continued survival, heirlooms that offer independence, and heirlooms that give gardeners a chance to do their part for the preservation of genetic diversity.

To learn more, and to gain access to a huge assortment of delicious possibilities, consul the Garden Seed Inventory, available from Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101; (563) 382-5990; http://www.seedsavers.org. It explains, eloquently, why heirlooms are important. And it is the source of sources, listing very nearly all the open-pollinated (nonhybrid) vegetable seeds available commercially in the United States, along with the names and addresses of the companies that supply them.

Within OCMGA, we have a dedicated group of members working with Seed Savers — watch this blog for an article about their efforts.

Tomatoes – the Legend of Louie

by Tammy Borden

maxresdefaultI confess, I’m not much of a vegetable gardener. I much prefer the delicate beauty of flowers and using them to design a stunning landscape. For some reason, a pepper plant swaying in the breeze doesn’t bring me the same delight as that of the tender blossom of a bleeding heart or daffodil.

But then there is the tomato… Yes, I know, to the true botanists out there it’s not technically a vegetable, but a fruit. Although, in 1887, the U.S. Supreme Court did apparently rule that it was indeed a vegetable. So legally, it seems, the tomato is not a fruit. Ah, but I digress.

For me, it’s not the most attractive of garden plants, so that’s not why I cherish it so much. And it’s not so much that I even like the taste of tomatoes. I would much prefer a freshly pulled carrot after wiping the dirt off on my sleeve, or those sweet sugar snap peas plucked right from the vine. Yes, my love of the tomato runs deeper than my taste buds. My love of the tomato is because of love itself.

His name was Louie… a larger than life character. I remember visiting his house in early spring and walking through the narrow pathways formed in his garage that hadn’t seen a car in years. Every possible space was filled with flats of seedlings. There were many kinds of plants that he intended to later sell out of the back of his rusty Volkswagen van at a nearby parking lot. The crudely written price signs drawn with a grease pencil on a sheet of notebook paper were his only marketing tool.

But his plants were legendary, and his pride and joy were his tomatoes: Early Girl, Jet Star, Beefsteak, Giant Pinks, and the list went on. He could tell you the unique characteristics of each variety – its flavor, color, shape, texture and size. I remembered his own small plot of land where he grew tomatoes that looked like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors. They were immense, with plants reaching the eaves of his house and tomatoes the size of musk melons.

Louie was my father-in-law, and I had the privilege of knowing him for more than 15 years before he went to that big tomato patch in the sky where there is no disease or blight – a comforting thought as I reflect on his battle with cancer and emphysema that eventually took his life. But his passion for the lowly tomato did not go unnoticed, and I have since taken on the challenge of continuing the tradition. Now, I am the one hauling flats of seedlings to share with friends and co-workers. Now I am the one saving seeds from his mystery Heirloom tomato – the one he always called “Giant Pink.”

The tomato… When I pluck that first one from the vine I get an immense sense of satisfaction and nostalgia as I think of Louie. That’s why gardening is so much more than a laborious task of weeding and pest control to me. Gardening for me is about relationships. Yes, much of my time in the garden is spent alone. But even in solitude I’m reminded of relationships – I can look at a plant and tell you who gave me a cutting of it, who I was with when I got it, who helped me plant it… As I look at the birds and butterflies I enjoy my relationship with nature and the one who created it all. And the lowly tomato – I can’t look at one without being reminded of my relationship with Louie, whom some may have considered a lowly old man himself, but whose wisdom and beauty brought unbelievable flavor to my life. Those are the things that make gardening so meaningful and enjoyable for me. Those are the things of life.

Louie’s Top Ten Tips for Tomatoes

1. Don’t over water seedlings – let them dry out a little

2. Dry leaves – wet roots… always water seedlings from the bottom

3. Keep seedlings out of brisk winds

4. Use a 15-30-15 fertilizer

5. Plant the seedlings deep!

6. Use lots of compost

7. Sun! Sun! Sun!

8. They grow best in soil between 6-7 ph

9. Once planted, keep consistently moist

10. A little salt and pepper on a slice of Giant Pink – nothing better!