Last week I attended the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California and heard William Woys Weaver give a talk about his Roughwood Seed Collection.
William Woys Weaver is a food historian and author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History as well as 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From.
Weaver lives in Devon, Pennsylvania and maintains a collection of over 4,500 varieties of seed. His interest in seeds began when he was a small boy and spent a lot of time with his grandfather who was an avid gardener. His grandfather, H. Ralph Weaver, started collecting seeds in the 1920’s, but it wasn’t until after his death in 1956 that young Weaver discovered the extensive seed collection in his grandmother’s freezer. Weaver has spent years adding to and preserving the collection.
To make sure that his very rare and historically significant seeds outlive him, he has been working with Baker Creek Seeds to make some of his varieties available to the public. He has also been working with Mill Hollow Farm in Edgemont, Pennsylvania, to establish an organically certified produce and rare seed farm using seeds from his collection.
Some of the bean seeds he profiled include Pelzer Juni, a very productive bush bean, Walkers Great Valley Long Pod (pre -1800), Beaumont’s Gray Pole (pre 1800), and Purple Kinsessing Pole, a pre 1700 Pennsylvanian Native American variety. To my knowledge, none of these are available from commercial sources.
He also profiled several tomatoes such as Atlantic Prize, 1889, which he considers great for canning. He recommended Governor Pennypacker, 1907, for sauce. Neither the Atlantic Prize or Governor Pennypacker are available commercially. He also spoke about Redfield Beauty, an heirloom selected from AW Livingston’s Beauty and released by the H. G. Hastings Seed Company in about 1897. (http://www.victoryseeds.com/tomato_redfield-beauty.html). It is available from Seed Savers Exchange and Victory Seeds.
In closing he paid homage to St. Gertrude, who is the patron saint of the kitchen garden. Her day is March 17 and marks the traditional start of the gardening season.