By Roberta Bailey
Seed saving is rapidly becoming a national craze, hot on the heels of football and baseball. Well, not quite, but it is gaining popularity. It’s making the newspapers, and when it gets its own section, I’m convinced that it will have a place before the sports section. I’ve stated it before but the most heartening news I’ve read this year bears repeating: The Seed Savers Yearbook 1998, the annual seed list of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, contained 19,622 listings for 11,044 unique varieties of garden vegetables and fruits, offered by 991 listed members. To add some perspective, The Fourth Edition of the Garden Seed Inventory (1993) contains listings for 6,482 non-hybrid vegetables. Grassroots seed savers are maintaining nearly twice as many varieties as the entire mail-order garden seed industry in the United States and Canada. The statistics are heartening in that people are taking control of their seed resources, but they also tell of a lack of interest by seed companies and plant breeders toward the far less profitable open-pollinated or non-hybrid varieties.
For the newcomers to seed saving, the choices are mind-boggling. Actually, I’ve been saving seed for over 20 years and every winter when I get my new Seed Savers Yearbook or Maine Seed Saving Network member’s list, I am still overwhelmed. If I only knew which were the really good varieties, I could save years of experimentation. To help others I’ve sorted through all the little piles of seed here and jars there, and the sacks of beans still waiting to be cleaned in the back room and come up with a descriptive list of my open-pollinated favorites as a good starting place for the beginning seed saver or as a list worthy of attention for avid savers.
What is the difference between an open-pollinated variety and a hybrid? An open-pollinated plant variety produces seed that can be saved and planted and will produce offspring just like the parent plant(s), provided precautions are taken to prevent cross-pollination when necessary. (If you save the seed from the tomatoes that Aunt Maria brought from Italy, or Brandywine, you will get the same tomato when you plant the saved seed the following year.) For the gardener or farmer, open-pollinated varieties represent self-sufficiency.
A hybrid plant variety is the offspring of a cross between parent varieties that are genetically different. If you save the seed from a hybrid and grow it, you will not get offspring like the parent, but a mathematically predictable percentage of various combinations of the original parents. (If you save the seed of your favorite hybrid pepper, Super Duper, you will get a great number of peppers that look nothing like Super Duper, and a small percentage that are identical to it.) For the gardener or farmer, hybrid seed represents dependence on the seed producer (who may or may not continue to market that particular seed). Seed catalogs listing hybrid varieties usually indicate what type of hybrids they are just after the varietal name.
All of the varieties listed below are open-pollinated. Some are self-pollinating and need little or no protection from possible cross-pollination (pollen from another variety contaminating your saved variety). Some are cross-pollinators, relying on wind or insect pollination, and need to be grown in isolation or isolated with a physical barrier. They are listed separately.
Black Coco – an excellent snap, shell, and dry bean, especially delicious refried or baked; fat black shiny beans, bluish purple in the shell stage.
Hutterite Soup – the most delicious soup bean, cooks to a rich creamy chowder in about an hour.
Rattlesnake Pole – long, tender, purple streaked green bean, also reputed to be a good dry bean.
Rosa Bianca – rose-lavender streaking on white-skinned large bulbous fruit, creamy delicious flavor
Pintung Long – not to be confused with the commercial hybrid of the same name; long 10 to 14-inch lavender fruit only 1 inch across; not bitter, very productive, but few seeds.
Blushed Butter Oak – a compact oakleaf butterhead with rose-blushed green leaves and a sweet buttery taste
Lingue di Canarino – a delicate oakleaf with light green buttery leaves. Loose heads can get quite large; bolt and bitterness resistant.
Buttercrunch – unsurpassed for its buttery character and creamy, tender, delicious center heart.
Miragreen – a 4-foot vine with brilliant green, fat pods of exceptional sweetness and flavor.
Blizzard – a narrow-podded, tender snowpea with good flavor, very prolific
Amish Snap – 4-foot tall vine produces delicate, sweet, flavor packed pods in abundance.
Czechoslovakian Black – Prolific hot pepper, medium heat, jalapeno size but tapered; shiny black flesh is a stunning garnet red when ripe; excellent flavor.
Earliest Red Sweet – good yields of blocky bells with good sweetness and flavor, red before Ace.
(A highly subjective vegetable)
Sochulak – a large, rose colored, early maturing, high yielding tomato with excellent flavor for fresh eating.
Hogheart – an oxheart type red-orange paste tomato with exceptionally sweet flavor when cooked.
Goldie – a golden beefsteak with full-bodied flavor and sweetness.
Peacevine – the open-pollinated selection of Sweet 100 hybrid cherry tomato, red and sweet and prolific.
Lutz Greenleaf – an ambitious, deep red root, can get quite large, but remains sweet, stores extremely well (aka Winter Keeper).
Dandy Early – a mid-size, delicious head that can produce seed in one Maine season.
Early Jersey Wakefield – a pale green, pointed head, very early, good flavor.
Danish Ballhead – reliable, large, blue-green storage cabbage (100 days).
Mammoth Red Rock – large, solid, red storage type with sweet flavor.
Scarlet Keeper – a wide topped, tapered, dark orange root that maintains its good sweet flavor all winter.
Mandan Bride – multi-colored flour corn with nutty sweet flavor, matures in most of Maine.
True Platinum – a delicious, late season white variety, selected from the hybrid Platinum Lady, 8-inch ears, purple stalks.
Double Standard – a mid-season, bi-color, uniform, sweet, good corn flavor; bred by Rob Johnston, Jr.
Ashworth – yellow, 6- to 7-inch ears with good flavor, short stalks.
White Spined Improved – a 6- to 8-inch long, dark green slicer with buttery flavor. Prolific.
Northern Pickler – a very early, very prolific, mild flavored pickling cuke, 2- to 4-inches long.
Boothby’s Blond – 3- to 5-inch, blocky-shaped, cream to yellow fruit, crisp, sweet, excellent flavor when small.
White Russian – a white stemmed Siberian kale full of variation, winters well under cover, produces many side shoots for a large plant.
Gigante – Czech heirloom gets huge, but not woody; crisp, white, mild, tangy flesh.
Imperial – a thick stalked, mid to late season leek with full flavor and shaft length.
Golden Gopher Muskmelon – exceptional flavor, orange flesh, 5- to 8-inch, heavily ribbed fruit, midseason.
Quetzali Watermelon – a long season, deep pink fruit with solid watermelon flavor, few seeds, very sweet.
Bennie’s Red – dark red round roots, medium strong flavor, stores well.
New York Early – a superior selection of Early Yellow Globe, stores into March or April, 3-inch, firm, mild, yellow onions.
Harris Model – 10-inch, tapered, smooth, white roots, pungent sweet flavor.
Buttercup (C. maxima) – dark green blocky fruit with sweet dry orange flesh, good yields, excellent flavor.
Waltham Butternut (C. moschata) – large beige fruit with sweet creamy orange flesh, medium yields.
Delicata (C. pepo) – 10-inch-long, cream with green striped fruits, very sweet and flavorful, prolific. Squash bugs don’t like it!
Lady Godiva pumpkin (C. pepo) – fully hulless naked seeded pumpkin, long vines, medium, round, pale orange fruit.
Gilfeather turnip – sweet white flesh, late season fruit, not woody until very large. Stores well.
Laurentian rutabaga – 5- to 6-inch fruit with a deep purple crown and creamy yellow base, sweet pale yellow flesh. Stores well.
Most seed listed here can be found through the following sources:
Maine Seed Saving Network
PO Box 126
Penobscot ME 04476
(membership - $15.00 individual)
Seed Savers Exchange
3076 North Winn Rd.
Decorah, Iowa 52101
PO Box 520, Waterville ME 04903
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
1 Foss Hill Rd., RR1 Box 2580
Albion ME 04910
Pinetree Garden Seeds
New Gloucester ME 04260
High Mowing Organic Seed Farm
RD 1 Box 95, Derby Line VT 05830
Abundant Life Seed Foundation
PO Box 772
Port Townsend WA 98368