I am an Heirloom Gardener on Foreign Soil

Life  is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let  us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live  better in the future.
William Wordsworth

I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. Originally from Texas, I have Hispanic and Jewish Roots on my Mother’s side; European Roots on my Father’s side. My great grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, Lithuania, Ireland, and Germany. My parents and I were born in America; we are American. I now live in Japan.

I began this journey as a gardener in the States where everything was familiar and comfortable. Seed packets at the local stores were almost always Ferry-Morse or Burpee, not that you had to use seeds because the hardware stores had transplants for just as cheap every spring. You never had trouble finding the name of anything unfamiliar to you. You could count on tomatoes to be red, cucumbers to be green, and all other things to be entirely predictable. You also realized that you would have start up costs for your garden and reason that it was an investment.

Then I started doing something a little different. When we bought produce at the store that I particularly liked; I saved the seeds. What did it cost me besides a little bit of time? I began saving seeds in every fruit and vegetable that I liked. Next I found new produce at places like Whole Foods such as “Yellow Pear Tomato” or “Speckled Roman”  or a Mexican variety of a Cherry Tomato. I began recording where I was finding my seeds, when I found them, and if I knew where they were shipped from.

That is when I learned about Heirloom Gardening. Heirloom seed collection is much like passing down family Heirlooms. You attain seeds from a parent plant and replant those seeds in the future then repeat the process with the generation of seeds that follows. Seeds are passed on to family, neighbors, and friends so that future generations can enjoy growing something as  tangibly in the present as a vegetable but at the same time capable of rebirth through its seed. This is how Heirloom Varieties have stayed around without being stocked in grocery stores; old time gardeners are still saving and passing them on for future generations. I now order seeds from a catalogue (the way the old timers used to do) by Baker Creed Seed Company as they specialize in collecting rare varieties of seeds.

Now I too specialize in collecting rare varieties. I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. I am presently growing vegetables from seeds that were from Texas, Mexico, Georgia, and Florida. I now collect new varieties from mysterious foods I find here because today is a part of the story my garden will tell. Imagine a garden in the future where I will tell people, “This is a small Shikuwasa tree started from seeds I collected in Okinawa. Over here is a plant some call a Cape Goose Berry, but in Okinawa it’s called a Hozuki and is said to be extremely rare. At my parent’s house is an Avocado tree I actually started in Georgia and then loaded into the car and took with me to Texas. Then over here is a collection of rare purple varieties of veggies like Jalapeños, Tomatillos, and Cayenne Peppers.” Rather than seeing them only as plants, I will recall the history that is theirs and mine alike.

One thing I find amazing is the miracle of how small a seed is and yet the greatness of it’s potential. It reminds me of myself–of all of us really–and how we start out so small but have the potential to grow to endless heights. A single seed appears so insignificant; yet it can become a huge tree or three foot plant that produces hundreds fruit. Plus, each seed carries the DNA of it’s parent plant. It won’t just randomly turn into another plant–it will be like it’s parent. AND, each new generation of seeds carries traits that help it adapt to the environment that it has been introduced to. Also, if you allow it to be in close proximity to a similar plant variety, the cross pollination will cause it to have traces of the other plant’s DNA. The new generation might come out looking a little different but in most ways it will be the same.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been striving to do when I shop at the local markets. I’m searching for the pieces that I will add to my story–the one that my garden tells. Now you’ll know the significance of Market Day Sunday.

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9 thoughts on “I am an Heirloom Gardener on Foreign Soil

  1. Ah! I hadn’t even considered heirloom seeds/saving seeds. Aside from some shikuwasa seeds to keep with me until we get back to the states. You’re brilliant! I’m a new gardener; could you share some tips for seed drying and storage? I’d REALLY like to be able to grow beni imo too. Do you know of any dry storage option for that? I may go into a deep depression in world without beni imo…
    My great-grandparents are Lithuanian. Small world. 😉

    1. Oh so small indeed! Actually, I read this entry to my husband and he said, ” As a reader, I would want to know how to save the seeds.” So, that entry is being cooked up now! I will post it very soon. As for the Beni Imo, I might have a solution. Potatoes are often grown from potato eyes which don’t keep long; however, if you grow them from the eyes the vines should flower. When they flower, you allow the flowers to turn into seed heads and viola! Seeds! In theory the same holds true for beni imo. I hope that helps and ill post more info as I find it 😉

  2. Hi!

    I came across your site while looking for tips on how to grow shikuwasa from seed. I grew up in Yokohama, and I still return often to Japan. Recently I came back from a trip to Okinawa with seeds from some fantastic shikuwasa I picked up.

    I live in Norway, so getting plants to grow from Japan is a challenge. Can you share your tips on how to go from seed to sprout, and potting/planting? I’m not sure how to proceed.


    1. Hi Sari! I would recommend starting in small drainable pots in your window sill and try to keep them warm (with a light or inside heating). Keep the seeds lightly moist each day (not sopping wet or dry) and by patient. It could take several weeks for the seeds to start. Beyond that it will be some time before the tree gets very big and you can help it thrive near a bright window in house container.

  3. I am scouring the internet for a source of seeds to grow some if these trees. I grew four trees from seed for two years and they reached 3 feet before I had to move away and give them to friends. If you have fruit bearing trees, would it be possibly to purchase some seeds from you? I can’t find any source online, if you know if one I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!

    1. This is a great question that I will ponder; I do not have fruit bearing trees at this time but plan to make seeds available in my Etsy shop in the future. Rareseeds.com has the best selection of organic plants (seeds and live plants) that I’ve seen so far. I also like botanical interests but have not seen trees in their catalogue. What region are you planting in?

      1. Hi Marissa,

        I’m looking for shikuwassa seeds, but I haven’t found any shop that sells them. I don’t know if you finally have a etsy shop, but I want to know if you have shikuwasa seeds and if you want to sell/change them.

        Thanks and congratulations for your garden.

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