Yes. Really. I know. I'm a crazed seed addict. But when I learned that William Woys Weaver is trying to start a seed company to make some of the nearly 4000 varieties of food plants in the Roughwood Seed Collection available to the gardening public I figured that the best way to support his project is to buy some seeds and while I was there I added a tax deductible donation as well.
A tiny fraction of his vast collection of rare and unusual edibles is already available through Baker Creek and Hudson Valley Seed Library and some are available through the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook by members that obtained seeds from Mr. Weaver in the past and now offer them. Mr. Weaver used to offer seeds through SSE but hasn't for the past few years, don't ask me why, I don't know. The one seed that I offer through SSE, Golden Corn Salad, I originally obtained from Mr. Weaver through SSE years ago. But 4000 varieties! For a seed junkie like me that is the Mother Lode and I find it exciting that more of it will become available if the Roughwood Seed Collection can make a go of it.
I've been an admirer of William Woys Weaver ever since I purchased his book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening not long after it was published in 1997. And then a few years later his book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From was published and of course I immediately purchased a copy. Both books are full of stories and descriptions of heirloom and unusual vegetables. I've grown a number of vegetables based on his descriptions in those books. But one of the most frustrating things about these books is that seeds for many of the vegetables that he describes are not available or extremely difficult to find. So I was very interested to learn that he's trying to make more of his collection available.
So, what did I end up with?
There's always room for greens in my garden especially in the winter so I'm trying Mizunarubasoi, a cold tolerant cross of Mizuna/Tatsoi/Maruba that should be a good overwintering green. It's supposed to be good for both salads and stir-fries. And with a name like Mizunarubasoi how could I resist.
Another mustard I purchased is an endangered (from over gathering) wild Mediterranean variety from the Cape Greko National Forest area of Cypress, thus named Cape Greko Mustard (Enarthrocarpus arcuatus). This one sounded very interesting to me since it has the potential to be a perennial in my climate. Even if it doesn't perennialize it can last through the year if started early, producing a spring crop of greens, then going dormant in the summer after it blooms, then reemerging in the fall to produce another crop of greens. This would also fit my harvest schedule since I tend to ignore most leafy green veggies in the summer but want them when the weather gets cold.
Medieval Syrian Chard is unusual because it behaves like an annual, bolting in the first season, but if the flower stalks are pruned the plants will put out new growth. The flower stalks themselves are supposed to be tasty. I'm usually one to try the unusual so this sounded interesting.
Talk about unusual, how about an eggplant that is grown primarily for it's greens? How could I resist the Gbognome (bog-NO-may) Eggplant Collards, the leaves of which are edible when cooked, which is the primary reason it is grown. It's not the same species as the eggplant that we typically grow, it is Solanum macrocarpon rather than Solanum melongena. The fruits are edible as well, although they are bitter, but they can be allowed to ripen and then dried to make "a delightful ornament for the holidays" as Mr. Weaver says in his thorough description of the plant in 100 Vegetables.
I added a somewhat more typical eggplant to my collection with the Homs 20, a variety described as "substantial, meaty, and quite tasty" and still good if it gets seedy. It's also supposed to be drought tolerant, hardy, and perhaps more resistant to pests than other eggplants.
I'm not sure where I'm going to squeeze it in, but I got seeds for yet one more sweet pepper. Petit Marseillais is an heirloom from Provence with golden yellow pods that are good for pickling or better yet they are ideal for stuffing. How could I resist?
And I'm going to wedge another tomato into the lineup. Pomme d'Amour is an old type of tomato that resembles the original tomatoes brought to Europe when the Americas were first being colonized. It will be interesting to see what "an old type" of tomato turns out to be.
And there's a few more unusual veggies that came my way.
The Vine Peach is a melon that in spite of its name has flesh that resembles a pear in texture and flavor. There's a description of Vine Peaches and numerous similar melons (Mango Melon, Garden Lemon, Orange Melon, Vegetable Orange, Melon Apple) in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening where their various uses are described. They aren't like sweet melons, their flesh is firm and crisp and sometimes fragrant. The typical uses seemed to be for making preserves or pickles. They are also good in stir-fries, baked into pies, or used in curries. The pear-like quality of the Vine Peach offered by Roughwood is supposed to make it good for using in salads. Note - not all melons like this are tasty raw, the Mango Melon offered by Baker Creek is criticized for being quite bland and not fragrant at all, apparently the "mango" part of the name refers to a process where the melon is "mangoed" by stuffing it with seasonings and spices and pickling it. There's an heirloom recipe in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening for Musk Melon Mangoes which describes the process.
The Gagon Cucumber is a very rare variety from Bhutan. It is supposed to thrive in colder climates as wells as hot humid ones. I figure that it should tolerate my cool coastal climate. It seems to be a multi-use cucumber, good as a typical cucumber in its green youth and still good when mature and dark skinned when it is supposed to be reminiscent of melons and can still be eaten raw or pickled or used to make chutney.
One more melon relative found its way into the shopping cart. Cucumis metuliferus, commonly known as Kiwano Horned Melon, or Kiwano, or African Horned Melon, or Jelly Melon, or other names, has lime-green tangy jelly like flesh that is good for fresh eating, or used in smoothies or ice cream. This strain is particularly well adapted to cold climates, ripening earlier than most other strains, making it a candidate for my coastal climate where melons struggle to ripen properly.
That's almost it, at least for the Roughwood Seeds. I also snagged a few free seed packets from Peaceful Valley when I placed an order for some garden supplies. New varieties include Calabrese broccoli, White Beauty radishes, Little Gem romaine lettuce, and Baby Shanghai pak choi.
If you are interested in rare and unusual vegetables you should take a look at what Roughwood has to offer. It was really difficult for me to pass up some of the beans and flour corns, but maybe next year...