Last week, I sowed tomato and pepper seeds in flats of potting soil, and they are busy germinating inside my house under grow lights. I haven’t seen any green leaves sprout above the soil’s surface yet, but I expect to see some soon.
My mother and my aunt have been cleaning out my grandmother’s house, and they rescued some seeds from a dark closet where they have been sitting for nearly 20 years. I sowed some of them thickly along with my new seeds. I know, I know, there’s no way they’ll germinate because they are so old, but I could not resist trying to germinate seeds of “Frank Carruth’s tomatoes,” “yellow tomatoes,” and “Moon and Stars Watermelon.”
Thrifty children of the Depression, my grandparents used the payment envelopes that came with their power bill to store the seed. According to my aunt, the Frank Carruth, for whom my grandparents named the tomatoes, owned a furniture store in the South Carolina town, Landrum, where they lived. People knew him for his “green thumb,” and he accepted payments for the power company, where my grandmother paid her bill.
Although I don’t know exactly how my grandmother got the original seeds, I like to imagine him handing over some seeds, a plant, or a few tomatoes, with her change from paying the power bill, and admonishing my grandmother to save some seed for the next year’s garden. According to my uncle, the seeds are a German Pink tomato, and Mr. Carruth might have brought the seeds to the US from Germany after he finished his military service in World War II.
The variety still exists in heirloom seed catalogs and my uncle thinks he has some seeds in his freezer he’ll give me. Seed companies like Seed Savers Exchange, http://seedsavers.org/, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds.com, were started with seeds people found and wanted to preserve. Heirloom seeds have a story, like that of the Frank Carruth tomatoes; no scientist made them in a laboratory. My favorite seed company, out of Anderson, Heavenly Seed, www.heavenlyseed.net, carries many heirloom, open-pollinated seed varieties as well as hybrid seed that do well in South Carolina.
In hopes of preserving seeds from the very plants my grandparents grew, I’ll plant these seed and see what happens. As I open the envelopes carefully labeled with my grandparents’ handwriting, I remember working with them in the garden, imagine what might have been happening when they removed those seeds from that tomato to save. Unfortunately, I was busy with high school and away at college during most of the gardening years from which those particular seed were saved, and even when I visited, I was not very interested in gardening. As I save seed from the plants in my garden, I hope I can build a library of seed that will outlive me.
If you haven’t ordered seeds or started seeds for the spring and summer, it’s not too late. Begin sowing the seeds of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and warm season herbs inside, even though you won’t be able to set them out into the garden for another six weeks or so. Wait to sow seeds of beans, corn, squash, and other summer vegetables directly outside in the garden in early-to-mid April. We have plenty of time, so look at some seed catalogs or websites, and start a garden with a story yourself