We were recently gifted a mammoth pumpkin (a Trombone Gramma to be precise), and it reminded me just how homogeneous our food can become if we only ever shop in supermarkets. When was the last time you saw a two-and-a-half-foot pumpkin in the fresh food aisle? I rest my case.
There are, however, many ways we can ensure that non-conformist species like this pumpkin continue to grace our tables. Many locations have formal seedbanks or seed-saver groups from which you can buy heirloom-variety seeds to grow at home, and there are commercial nurseries that will ship stock directly to your door. Farmers’ Markets are also a great source of non-compliant vegetables.
Buying veges from a local source like this also has an added informational component; the growers are usually more than willing to let you in on propagation advice and seed-saving tips so your crop will produce year after year. Not everyone has a Monsanto mindset and most people when asked, will be happy to share the lessons they have learned (given their knowledge, and possibly their plants, likely came from asking similar questions).
But our best resources are usually right on our doorstep. Neighbours and friends often have all sorts of interesting things hidden in their back gardens or in dusty bottles and packets of seeds that they found in great aunt Daisy’s airing cupboard. And if they live nearby and the plant grows well there, then you have a pretty good chance of being able to grow them at your place too.
The best way to keep heirloom varieties alive is by, well, keeping them alive! Seeds do have a shelf life and along with that can fall victim to moisture, mould and small critters. One thing I particularly advocate when you do get hold of interesting seeds or cuttings is to share them around. If you can give them to friends, neighbours or relatives to grow, they not only get to enjoy the foods or flowers these provide but with each successive generation you can collect more seeds and spread the species further. There is also the bonus of having access to more seeds if there’s been a particularly bad cold snap, dry spell or chicken invasion and you’ve lost your crop.