A Seed Saving Story: Grandmother’s Long-Lost Lettuce

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in March 2017.

This is a story of the importance of seed saving, and how a simple kindness from a fellow gardener helped me reconnect with my grandmother’s garden.

In case you didn’t know, Lehman’s sprawling retail store in Kidron has a “little sister” store 10 miles down the road in the village of Mt. Hope. Mt. Hope Hardware is packed with all the basic Lehman’s products, plus other unique items, and serves as the village hardware in that town.

I was there one evening when the store was also packed with ladies for their annual Ladies Night. The mostly Amish gathering of ladies was treated to a meal of chili and cornbread, product demonstrations, door prizes and short seminars. (Note: If you missed this one, check out the upcoming Ladies Night Out on March 22 at the Kidron store – Lehman’s really knows how to throw a party for the gals!)

Seed to Seed is Karen’s recommended book on the topic of saving seeds. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

One of the mini seminars I taught that evening was on Seed Saving. I had examples of beans, peas, lettuce and tomato seeds that I have saved from heirloom plants in my garden. As I shared seed saving basics of isolation distance and collection methods, the ladies also shared some interesting ideas from their gardens.

A new tip I learned from them was to take a slice of a very ripe summer tomato, let it dry on a paper plate and then plant the whole thing in a plastic container with seed starting soil in the spring – and up come all your tomato seedlings. Another lady made it even easier; she put the juicy tomato slice directly into a small plastic tub of soil and stored it in her basement. In spring she brought it up and watered it and had quick seedlings. (Amish country hacks at their best!)

Non-GMO Amish Paste Tomato heirloom seeds, available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

As I talked of the importance of saving seed so we don’t lose valuable varieties of garden plants, I mentioned that I was sad that I didn’t get interested in seed saving till many years after my seed saving grandmother had passed away. She had a variety of lettuce called Whipporwill that I have never been able to find in a seed catalog. Many years after she was gone we even found a bag in the attic with her distinctive handwriting labeling her Whipporwill lettuce seed heads. I tried my best to germinate the old seeds but was unsuccessful.

Then, as I spoke, one of the sweet older Amish ladies at the seminar raised her hand. When I acknowledged her, she proceeded to tell me she had saved Whipporwill lettuce seed for years and would be glad to share some with me! I’m sure the group was amused at the excitement I showed! I was almost to the point of tears to have a piece of my grandma’s garden back. What a perfect, unexpected way to make my point about the value of seed saving!

A few days later, a carefully hand-labeled packet of Whipporwill (charmingly misspelled as “Wipper Will”) seeds arrived in the mail. I planted the first ones indoors and the sprouts are just showing through. My plan is to transplant some lettuce plants out for eating and also place a half dozen in a spot where I can let them go to seed. I’m anticipating the memories of grandma that the first salad will bring.

What seeds are you saving to keep family stories alive?