One way to help a tomato survive - from sharing to seed catalog

The sharing of seeds represents a giving of true gifts. Each of us that garden find varieties that particularly excite us - and we want our friends and family to experience that excitement. Sometimes it works out perfectly and the result appeals to both sharer and recipient - but not always, because taste perception and preference are so personal. 

The sharing of seeds of non-hybrid tomatoes can be thought of as the elongation of a chain of ownership that can span generations. It is a fragile chain, however, because seeds are living things and don't last forever. Many varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables have been lost over time because the seed doesn't get shared in time - or at all, passing out of existence. If something is wonderful, we want it to be around for a long time - for our children and their children to grow, and beyond.

My first really happy seed story was, of course, the sharing of a packet of seeds with me by John Green of Tennessee in 1990. Cherokee Purple was the result of that most unexpected but fortunate transaction. There have been many more over the years, such as Lillian's Yellow Heirloom and Anna Russian. Most of these shares took place when I first became interested in heirloom tomatoes and word got out that my mailbox was a good destination for such treasures, because I didn't keep such treasures a secret; I made sure they were distributed far and wide.

My speaking events since the release of Epic Tomatoes in late 2014 are adding to my seed sharing stories - generosity of others allowed me to add such wonderful varieties as Aunt Edna, Maris Family, Anna's Kentucky, Springston, and Uncle Joe, just to name a few, to my seed collection. Each variety has a story to tell.

The story I wish to tell in more detail in this blog begins with an email received on November 14, 2015 from a fellow named Walt Swokla, who lives and gardens in Connecticut. Walt wanted to question me about a special family tomato that he has grown for years; his grandmother brought them to the US from Popoli Italy in 1917. 

Walt very generously shared some of the seeds with me, so that I could grow it myself and then offer my opinion on whether it was similar to any other tomatoes I was familiar with. I first grew them in 2016 - and absolutely loved them. The tomato plant was vigorous and healthy, the tomatoes medium to large, heart shaped, pink and delicious. Last year it excelled as well. This is clearly a tomato of stellar quality.

 two perfect Cancelmo Family Heirloom tomatoes from my 2017 garden

two perfect Cancelmo Family Heirloom tomatoes from my 2017 garden

My personal philosophy, which is shared by most gardeners, is that wonderful discoveries are best when shared far and wide. Given that, my first thought was to contact my friend, Mike Dunton, owner of Victory Seeds, inform him of this most fortunate find, and at the same time, let Walt know of my plan (and, of course, obtain his approval to do so.) The tomato was simply too good to keep between a handful of gardeners. I put Walt and Mike in contact so that the catalog entry would accurately represent the history. The result is the 2018 debut of Cancelmo Family Heirloom tomato

By helping to make an heirloom variety widely available in a seed catalog, many more gardeners can hear about, order, and grow it - thus, find out first hand about not only its excellent qualities, but the wonderful associated history. I am so thrilled that the story of Cancelmo Family Heirloom tomato is told, the seeds available, and now offered an excellent chance to survive and provide delight for a long, long time. 

Thanks, Walt - and thanks, Mike!