Seed saving is as much about people as it is about plants. Seeds carry our stories from generation to generation and from place to place: they tell stories of love and family and community; of resilience and hope. Here’s some of the seedy stories that have been shared with Canberra Seed Savers. We are proud to steward these seeds and tell these stories. If you grow these seeds, please save some to share and help us to keep these legacies alive.
(Story by Ash Violi of Bungendore)
“Rocco supposedly smuggled the original seeds into Australia on the boat from Italy, each year meticulously saving seeds from the biggest, healthiest fruit for planting the next season. These were his pride and joy, and the main ingredient in Nonna’s sauce that was the foundation of almost every meal. After more than 50 years growing in the Canberra region, these have become very well adapted to our dry, hot summers.”
Thanks to the generosity of Ash, Rocco’s grandson, Canberra Seed Savers growers are growing, saving and sharing these seeds to preserve them for generations to come as a local heirloom for our community.
About Rocco’s tomatoes
“This is a sauce tomato, most likely a cultivar from the San Marzano variety common to Southern Italy – not ideal as an “eating” tomato, but the thick, sweet flesh and minimal juice and seeds makes them perfect for thick luxurious passata. As an indeterminate variety, these respond well to trellising and pruning – pinch out the suckers to just a single main stem and remove all the branches and fruit close to the ground. As fruit matures, thin out foliage to maximise airflow, particularly during wetter than usual seasons. Can be prone to blossom end rot if they get too wet, so only water when the top 1-2 inches of soil dries out.
Rocco’s tomatoes are for coming together, for celebrating family and friends and for sharing. We would love for you to continue to pass Rocco’s tomatoes – seeds or sauce – on to others, so that Nonno can continue sharing from his garden for many more years to come.”
“Rocco “Roy” Violi (or ‘Nonno’ as he was to me) was born in the small village of Plati, Reggio Calabria, Italy in 1926 and migrated to Griffith NSW in the early 1950s to prepare a way for his young family to join him a few years later. With his wife Maria (my Nonna) and their five children, they relocated to Canberra in 1969 where they worked tirelessly for 30 years feeding the families of the Canberra region at the Royal Canberra Hospital – Rocco as head cook in the hospital kitchen, and Maria catering the nurses’ dining room.
Outside of work, Nonno devoted his spare time to tending his enormous backyard garden where every inch was dedicated to growing and preserving fresh produce to share with family and friends. Even now the smell of fresh figs instantly transports me back to Nonno’s garden, and childhood memories of the entire family gathered around long tables under the grapevines, feasting on insalata, pizza, meat and of course pasta, using Nonna’s pane fresh from the brick oven to mop the leftover sauce from the bottom of our bowls – sauce pressed from the rows upon rows of tomato vines filling the garden beds behind us.
You never left without a full belly and at least two shopping bags full of something from the garden, and it’s this tradition of coming together to celebrate and share in the harvest that resonates with so many of us “urban homesteaders” today. When Nonno passed away at the age of 95, my father handed me an envelope with a small handful of seeds from Nonno’s very last tomato crop to keep his legacy going.”
Richard and the Bean Stalk
Richard Trevanion has a large productive and diverse plot at the Charnwood COGS garden. For more than 40 years, Richard has been growing, saving and growing again a vigorous and delicious variety of climbing butter bean. As well as stewarding the seed through the years, Richard has generously shared with many other gardeners. Now the Canberra Seed Savers network is excited to help keep this local heirloom growing and thriving across many more gardens for years to come.
Richard says “While working as a Trainee Draftsman in 1974 at the Civic Offices, I received an unexpected phone call from my father in Cooma, NSW.
He was rather disappointed after returning from a Cooma shopping trip, and being unable to acquire his favorite Yates Climbing Butter Bean seeds. For many years cooked Butter Beans graced the family dinner table in time for Xmas dinner, and the following weeks, as well as plenty for freezing.
In my lunch hour I wandered over to Walton’s Department store in Monaro Mall, now the thriving Canberra Centre, and was fortunate to find 2 packets of Yates Climbing Butter Bean seeds on the hook, which I purchased.
The beans were, in course, conveyed to Cooma and gleefully accepted by my father. He passed away in 1999, and as Mum sorted through his old garden shed, she found a small tobacco tin with some prodigy Climbing Butter Bean seeds inside.
I have continued to grow the beans which are resilient, pleasant flavor and heavy cropping, and encourage others to grow them too. Until recently, we had not seen these seeds available for retail, and I believe they truly show the value of Seed Saving.
I strongly commend the Climbing Butter Bean seeds to Canberra Seed Savers.”
Thanks to the generosity of Richard, Canberra Seed Savers growers are growing, saving and sharing these delicious, vigorous butter bean seeds to preserve this local heirloom for future generations. In 2022, we will be growing these seeds for the third season.