And finding your new favorite apple...
Walking down the produce section of any grocery store, you’ll almost always find the classic apple favorites like fuji, gala, granny smith, red delicious and, perhaps, McIntosh. It might be difficult, however, to find lesser known types like Albany Beauty, Esopus Spitzenberg, or Granite Beauty. Looking at the same display of apples in each grocery store makes it difficult to imagine that there are, actually, about 2,500 different varieties in the U.S. and roughly 7,500 in the world.
With all 7,500 varieties in the world we typically distribute, cultivate and actively save seeds of just a handful. Apples are not alone, either. There are more than 4,000 potato varieties, 3,000 tomato varieties and 1,000 banana varieties.
In the 1900’s we experienced a shocking drop in the number of heirloom varieties, which is no small part due to gardeners no longer saving and trading their own seeds. Losing seeds isn’t only the loss of biodiversity, buts it’s also the loss of unique flavors, smells, appearances, and piece of cultural ties. Tomatoes are not always, red, just like peppers aren’t always spicy. By preserving different seed varieties season after season, we allow species to fine tune themselves to their unique environment, and express different characteristics.
Not all seeds can be saved for the next season, which is the case for hybrid varieties, which may not produce true-to-type offspring, if any at all. In some cases, it is also illegal to save a seed variety from a crop that is patented or owned by a corporation.
When permitted, this is an artful and meaningful practice. Seed saving comes in many different forms ranging from casually saving as a hobby to preserving specific varieties through each generation of a family. No matter how it is done, this is an ancient practice that celebrates the saving and sharing of heirloom and native seeds. And who knows, you may even stumble across your new favorite type of apple.