Archives For heirloom tomato seeds

Come to the Seed Swap on February 28, and see a demonstration of the Lenhardt Library’s new seed library, set to launch next month.

Seed sharing is a resource for the community, just as libraries are a community resource for books. A seed library is where one may “borrow” seeds to sow, and if successful, harvest, save, and return some to the library for others to borrow the following season. We aim to cultivate an interest in home gardening and seed saving.

PHOTO: Seed packets.Many are familiar with planting seeds, so we’ll focus on seed saving—a less familiar aspect of the food cycle. The Lenhardt Library’s seed library will be geared toward the novice who has little experience with seeds, but all are welcome to participate. We’ll provide horticultural assistance and step-by-step instructions as part of our program.

Seeds in this seed library are primarily heirlooms (varieties that have been in cultivation for 50 years or more), and/or open-pollinated (pollinated by bees or wind), so that the next generation seed retains the identical characteristics of the parent. Seed companies Renee’s Garden and Seed Savers Exchange have generously donated seeds to get us started; tomato, beans, lettuce, and more await you.

In 2015, the Illinois Seed Law was amended, making noncommercial seed libraries such as this one legally exempt from commercial requirements such as testing and labeling. Now we’re ready to get started!

We hope you’ll visit and borrow seeds for your home garden, whether it’s a large plot or a terra cotta pot on a windowsill.

PHOTO: peas.Get more tips for starting seed in our Smart Gardener series, and consider starting some early spring crops.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Seed Swap is timed perfectly. As I type this blog, there is snow covering the ground. We’ve not had our mail delivered in days (this is, after all, Raleigh, N.C., where snow is a dirty word). But indoors, armed with seed catalogs, vials, and notebooks, gardeners everywhere are immersed in planning and planting.

That’s why I am so excited to be bringing my tomato stories and seeds to the Seed Swap.

As always, I hope to learn as much from the audience, fellow bloggers, and swap participants. One of my favorite things about gardening is the ability for all who partake to learn new and exciting things to share. It is one of those unique pursuits that no one can do perfectly or predictably. The renewal of each season fires up hope and optimism, and helps us to keep going year after year.

PHOTO: Heirloom tomato harvest, with cultivars labeled.

January: the time when we dream of heirloom tomatoes.


Sign up for my free lecture at the Garden on February 28. Don’t live in the Chicago area? Find more National Seed Swap Day events nationwide in January and February.

Seed swaps are just marvelous events which represent far more than just entering into a fun, interactive way to build seed collections. Seeds are the future—as in flowers, vegetables, or herbs for your garden. Seeds, perhaps even more significantly, are the past. They are a direct way to pass on a bit of history, as well as a bit of your own effort, if the seeds happen to be those that you saved yourself. When passing on seeds, be sure to also pass on whatever history and information that you’ve accumulated along the way.

PHOTO: Heirloom tomato seed collection.

Part of the Craig LeHoullier heirloom tomato seed collection housed with my go-to books.

I’ve got a “small” collection of seeds saved and sent through my 35 years of gardening (if you call more than 5,000 samples of seeds small, that is). There will be some fun, interesting, historic varieties among the packets that I will bring to share at the swap event. I like to tell people that it recently came to me that heirloom tomatoes chose me to be one of their ambassadors. How else can I explain the unsolicited gifts, in the form of letters with packets of seeds, which populated my mailbox in and around 1990? Among them are Anna Russian, Mexico Midget, and two varieties that came to me unnamed—Cherokee Purple and Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom. It is a role I relish, and serve gladly and enthusiastically. I am joined in this by so many—Carolyn Male, Amy Goldman, Bill Minkey, and Calvin Wait, just to name a few of those whose books and/or seed-saving efforts have been but a small part of making this perhaps the very best time for tomato enthusiasts to paint their gardens with such an array of colors, shapes, and sizes.

PHOTO: LeHoullier's garden, covered in snow.

The LeHoullier backyard tomato garden—it doesn’t look like much now, but wait until August!

The challenge of planning is that there is always more to grow than can reasonably fit. Some succeed better than others at narrowing things down. It is a good thing that tomato seeds will keep germination for at least a decade; it helps to ease the pressure of over buying. Hey—how about swapping for some of those extras! Whoops—that means I will then have even more to choose from. Great!

Sources for Craig’s seeds:

As far as what to grow, how does one navigate the confounding waters of tomato choices? Part of that answer lies in the intent of the garden—primary food source, tomato playground for testing or projects, or just one part of a greater whole with many other types of crops. There are choices of heirloom or hybrid, indeterminate or dwarf, and then the more fun projections such as colors and flavors. It all adds up to some pretty intense dreams—both during the day, and for me, occasionally while I sleep.

And so, Chicago, here I come. From lunching with bloggers and sharing gardening ideas and battle scars to my main talk where I can entice you with pictures of my conquests (and challenges, because they are unavoidable), and finally some time to swap seeds and stories, ask and answer questions. I will be happy to share the list of my favorite varieties and why. And stories—lots of stories, because many of the tomatoes I cherish, most have wonderful stories. Each summer, as I cast my eyes over my garden, I envision the faces and names of those who sent me seeds just as much as the appearance of the plants and the excitement of the tomatoes to come.

PHOTO: Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.

Purchase Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier in the Garden Shop!

In the meantime, come on along on my journey by checking out my website at craiglehoullier.com. I will soon be blogging about seed starting, making choices, and anything else that pops into my mind. There is info about my books, my upcoming events, and the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, from which some swap samples will be made available.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org