Seed Saving

Seed saving is an important part of our curriculum. Students learn not only the skills to save and store their own seeds, but also the rich cultural history behind many of the heirlooms that we grow. By most estimates, we have lost about 75% of the genetic diversity once present in our food crops--with that we lose culture, nutrition, culinary knowledge and genetic resilience. Some of the varieties that we maintain are old Maine heirlooms like Boothby's Blonde Cucumber or the Norridgewock Pole Bean, which has been grown here by the Abenaki since before colonization. Others are relative newcomers like callaloo from Jamaica or tulsi (sacred basil), originally from India. 

Need seeds? Each year we share a selection of our favorite varieties through the Belfast Coop. All seeds are grown, selected, cleaned and germination tested by students (in math class. . . fractions and percentages!). Breeding projects are deepening our exploration of genetics, heredity and natural/artificial selection (all 7th grade standards); we offer some of our gene pools here for those who want to try their hand at selection and breeding, or who just like to see the true diversity and wild potential of domesticated plants. Preservation and emergence are two sides of the same coin. Seed packets are decorated with student artwork. This year we are offering the following varieties:

2024 Seed List


Butternut Squash - Waltham - Cucurbita moschata

This old classic variety is our favorite butternut. Big, delicious, rugged and an excellent keeper. It continues to ripen in storage and usually achieves its best flavor by December and remains excellent right into summer. This strain was given to us by Jon Thurston, who has saved it for decades on his homestead in Searsmont. 

Cucumber - Boothby’s Blonde - Cucumis sativum

Maintained for 5 generations by the Boothby family of Livermore Maine, this old heirloom cuke is now widely loved. Smooth, light yellow/green cukes are best picked at 3-4”. Most common question from students in September: “Can I go get another cucumber?” Enjoy!

Peas - Sugar Snap - Pisum sativum

A favorite in the garden for our summer crew, pick them and they keep on coming!  We had so many peas this summer that we could barely keep up.  Our trellises stand at about 4 ½ feet tall and the peas were climbing out and over.  Easy to save your own seed once you get tired of picking and eating them, just let them mature and dry on the vine.  

Ground Cherry - Aunt Molly’s - Physalis pruinosa

A cousin of the tomatillo, but smaller and much, much sweeter.  Ground cherries are native to the Americas, this heirloom variety however, came from Poland in the 1800’s.  Ground cherries contain pectin and are great for pies and jams.  When ripe they will fall to the ground, if stored with their husks on they can last up to a month.  A delicious and favorite snack of students in the garden!

Watermelon - Blacktail Mountain - Citrullus lanatus

This watermelon was bred by Glen Drowns, a self-taught amateur plant breeder who, at the age of 17, decided to breed a watermelon that could ripen in the short, cold summers of the Idaho mountains. Call it beginners luck, but 4 years later he had created “Blacktail Mountain,” a delicious and rugged watermelon that ripens in 70 days. Last year we direct seeded it in late June and were all eating watermelon during the first week of school in September.


Pole Bean - Berner Landfrauen - Phaseolus vulgaris

This beautiful pole bean, with its green and purple-speckled pods, can be eaten when young straight off the vine as a stringless snap bean, or left to dry and used in soups or baked.  This heirloom bean of Swiss or German heritage has large cream colored beans that have purple spots when dried.   

Pole Bean - Mayflower - Phaseolus vulgaris

Rumored to have come over on the Mayflower, this heirloom pole bean is quite unique.  Deep maroon speckles on a cream, square-shaped bean.  This bean can be eaten young and fresh as a string snap bean, or left to dry and used to make a delicious traditional New England Baked Bean supper.  These beans get their square shape as the beans outgrow their hulls and push against the sides making the edges appear more flat and “square”, as opposed to the more typical rounded bean shape.  

Bush Bean - Montezuma Red - Phaseolus vulgaris

This heirloom bush-type dry bean is said to have been grown by the Aztecs.  Introduced in the 1800’s and grown widely in California it makes an excellent addition to the home garden for anyone looking to grow dry beans that are great used in soups, or as refried beans.  A beautiful, compact little red bean with great yields.  Part of the Sam Birch bean collection.  

Bush Beans - Maine Sunrise - Phaseolus vulgaris

Sunrise, Sunset? Who cares, they’re both beautiful and delicious!  Maine Sunset is an heirloom bean with a unique story, one about a mailman sharing beans with a farmer in the 1930’s in Maine, from which this rare bean variety was born.  A white bean, with brownish/red spots, great for baking…ours has some variation that could be selected out by the right person.  Until then we’ve dubbed it the “Maine Sunrise” - though really it is a Maine Sunset.    


Moldavian Dragonhead - Dracocephalum moldavica

We have really fallen in love with this plant. Its masses of beautiful blue/purple flowers are chosen over all the other flowers in our garden by bumblebees, hummingbird moths and other pollinators. The leaves and flowers, harvested in full bloom make a delicious tea, very much like lemon balm. But unlike lemon balm, dragonhead holds its flavor well when dried, allowing us to enjoy its uplifting, cheerful spirit all winter long. This is really a friendly plant and an easy one to save seed from.

Tulsi - Kapoor - Ocimum sanctum

A sacred plant in the Hindu tradition, it is used in ceremony and in Ayurvedic medicine. The dried leaves and flowers make a lovely aromatic tea, that is calming and balancing—great for remaining even-keeled in an upside down world. In fact, the scent is so powerful, that when we are working in the tulsi, people come over to ask “what is that smell?” Harvest the tops when they are flowering and you will get 3 or 4 cuts over a season, meaning a small patch can give you a winter’s supply of tea. Perennial in its native India, we grow it as an annual up this way.


Sunflower - Solidarity Mix - Helianthus annuus

Domesticated on Turtle Island (North America) at least 5,000 years ago, the sunflower has become an agricultural crop of global importance. We love them for their imposing presence, tasty seeds, and their value to birds and other wildlife. Immature flower buds track the sun, and the spiral organization of its flowers and seeds illustrates the “golden angle” and the fibonacci sequence…just google it. We took 5 different giant edible-seed varieties and let the bees cross them up (along with some feral ornamental volunteers and a Hopi dye sunflower for good measure), then began selecting for giant, unbranched plants with good seeds, early maturity and lodge resistance. Seeds range from white to black with many striped versions in between. Most plants are huge with big heads. If you want to breed for culinary use, cut out the branching types (5%) before they flower and select for the biggest, tastiest seeds. We bag our best seed heads on the plants in September so the birds don’t take them all. 

Calendula - Troy Howard Mix - Calendula officinalis

What a gentle, cheerful and powerful presence in the garden. Scatter a few seeds here and there and enjoy calendula blossoms all summer and well into the fall. This plant has a long history in European gardening and medicine traditions, and has likely been traveling with humans for quite some time. It makes a good cut flower, and its flower petals are edible and wonderful in salads. One of the easiest plants to grow and save seed from. This is a diverse gene pool with a whole range of colors (yellow, orange, strawberry) and shapes—both single and double blooms. Select your own varieties! F4 generation.

Tithonia (The Mexican Sunflower) - Tithonia rotundifolia

This plant grows into a small bush, 6ft tall and 4ft wide, if it’s happy. Covered in bright orange blossoms that attract butterflies and other pollinators. Great for borders and edges. Nice cut flowers. 

Marigold - Troy Sophia - Tagetes patula

A selection from Queen Sophia that appeared in our garden, it has the queen’s red/saffron disc of petals, but with a distinct puff of true flowers in the middle, like Saturn with its rings. We like how it looks and suspect it has more value to insects with all its true flowers. This species has edible petals and also makes an excellent dye plant. We use it to make a simple yellow dye during our Fall dye day festivities. 

Marigold - Queen Sophia - Tagetes patula

The mother plant to our own selected “Troy Sophia” Marigold.  This “French” Marigold, dubbed “French” as this is where many marigold varieties were crossbred, is a wonderful addition to any garden.  Beautiful and fragrant, bright orange, red, and yellow flowers attract beneficial insects and 

Woodland Tobacco - Versailles - Nicotiana sylvestris

A relative (believed to be a parent) of the ceremonial plant (or "drug" more recently) Nicotiana tabacum, this older species has become known as an ornamental. In fact, this particular strain was pinched from the famous gardens at Versailles by a seed-saving friend, and has been freely volunteering in the school garden ever since. Long, white, trumpet-shaped flowers give off an intoxicating scent, especially at night, attracting moths…and possibly even fairies. 

Starflower - Scabiosa stellata

A student raised his hand this fall as we sat in a circle next to the garden, “Sorry to interrupt, but I feel like I’m freaking out right now looking at this plant. . WHAT IS THIS?” Many have had a similar response looking at the geometric seed heads of the starflower scabiosa, whose pretty, understated flowers give way to funky badminton-birdy-shaped seeds arranged into little Bucky balls—just grow some—you’ll see. Good for attracting smaller insects like beneficial parasitic wasps, and for cut flower and dry flower arrangements. 

Nigella Mix - Nigella papillosa, Nigella damascena and Nigella orientalis 

We love nigella’s feathery, foamy foliage, its strange delicate flowers, and finally its funky seed pods that can be used in dried-flower arrangements. So we interplanted a bunch of different varieties and let them all cross to create this nigella gene pool. It includes three different species, which may or may not hybridize…will they? We don’t know! We do know that you’ll find a whole range of colors from blue to rose to white, and different interesting seed pod shapes. These flowers share space well, and lend themselves to poking in here and there among other flowers and vegetables. 

Celosia - Ruby Parfait - Celosia argentea spicata

A member of the amaranth family, this gorgeous plant has bright pink ombre flowers that sit on an upright spike.  Great for cut flowers or for use in dried arrangements, they make a beautiful statement edge to any garden.    

Gaillardia - Lorenziana - Gaillardia pulchella

This heirloom dates back to the mid-1800’s and has beautiful variations in color.  Pinks, magentas, maroons, yellows, oranges, whites - also known as “blanket flowers” these flowers can tend to flop over and “blanket” the ground with gorgeous colors if not given a little support.  The bees love them and they make a great addition to any fall bouquet.  

Zinnia - Persian Carpet - Zinnia haageana

Also known as “Mexican Zinnia”, this heirloom variety is smaller than the typical zinnia with a more compact habitat.  Bi-colored flowers range from red/maroon, yellow, orange, and white and bloom right up until the frost.  Great for raised beds, borders, or anywhere you want to add a pop of color.