Here at Seed Savers Exchange, to say we grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers would be an understatement. With decades of experience growing hundreds of vegetable varieties in production and garden settings, our crews at Seed Savers Exchange have learned a thing or two about support systems. Here are some trellises we like to use around the farm.Read More
With spring around the corner and a foot of snow still on the ground, the Seed Savers Exchange evaluation team has been evaluating dried legumes from last summer’s harvest. Beans, peas, and lima beans are soaked overnight and boiled until tender the next day. Cowpeas are not soaked, but are cooked the same. Once cooked, the evaluation team tastes each variety, taking notes on flavors and eliciting opinions from fellow lab staff. The following are some of the best flavored varieties grown in 2012:
SSE Collection: Bean 3461 ‘Alice Whitis’
These cooked dry beans were sweet with a smooth texture, excellent for baked beans. For fresh eating, the beans were easy to shell and had a meaty texture with a noticeable sweet flavor. While the pods were too fibrous to be enjoyed at the snap bean stage, this pole bean stood out as an all-around flavor winner for the 2012 growing season. John Inabnitt of Somerset, Kentucky donated this bean to SSE in 1992. Alice Whitis of Acorn, Kentucky gave the bean to John’s grandmother, and John’s aunt grew the bean after his grandmother died in the 1930s.
SSE Collection: Pea 94 ‘Jump’
These cooked peas had a rich, meaty, slightly sweet flavor with a smooth texture. The peas kept the brown mottled colorings when cooked. When eaten fresh, they had a slightly sweet flavor, but tasted far superior when used as dried peas. In the garden, this plant was a vigorous grower and prolific producer. Dennis Miller listed this pea in the SSE Yearbook from 1986 to 1991. His great-grandfather, Bill Jump, originally grew this variety in eastern Washington in the mid-1930s.
SSE Collection: Cowpea 16 ‘Swiss Gablie Bona’
This cowpea was slightly sweet, and had a good, firm texture. Jesse Yoakam donated the cowpea to SSE in 1988. His great-grandparents brought them from Switzerland many years ago. The English interpretation of the name is ‘Ladie Beans.’
SSE Collection: Lima Bean 282 ‘Wick’s Lima’
This lima bean had good texture with a sweet flavor when cooked. When eaten fresh, the beans had a dense texture and subtle sweet flavor. This pretty lima bean was donated by Helen Thomas in 2004. Helen obtained the bean in the 1960s from her husband’s grandmother, Wick B. Smith, of Sandyville, West Virginia.
Interested in growing these legumes? By becoming a member of Seed Savers Exchange you can access these and hundreds of other varieties in our annual Yearbook. Find out more about becoming a member and supporting the preservation of our endangered food crop heritage here.
The ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper was first noted as an ingredient for pepper sauces in the 1848 Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, Die Geschickte Hausfrau. Seed Savers Exchange member, William Woys Weaver, translated and republished the book under the title Sauerkraut Yankee in 1983. According to Weaver, the pepper was rarely eaten raw by the Pennsylvania Dutch, instead it was favored for colorful pickles and flavorful sauces.
Weaver inherited the seeds for ‘Hinkelhatz’ as a part of his late grandfather’s seed collection. According to his grandmother, the peppers first arrived in her kitchen around 1935. Because they were too spicy for her, she made them into a sauce for the boys – unknowingly continuing the tradition of making hot sauce with the pepper.
The ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper has been cultivated since at least the 1880s by the Pennsylvania Dutch. These settlers were a unique group of immigrants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who established themselves in Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Pennsylvania Dutch still have strong cultural ties to the original settlements throughout Pennsylvania and adjacent communities, with a rich food heritage that still includes the ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper.
HINKELHATZ CROCK PICKLE - reprinted with permission from William Woys Weaver's book, Sauerkraut Yankee
This traditional Pennsylvania Dutch pickle must have enough Hinkelhatz pepper in it to give it a spicy flavor. Vinegar often modifies the heat of hot peppers, so if in doubt, put whole seeded pods in the pickle and taste it often for the first day or two. If it seems to be getting too hot, remove the pods. If it is not hot enough, add more.
Yield: Approximately 2 quarts (2 liters)
1 large bunch fresh dill, preferably with flower heads (at least 4 to 5 large flower heads) 12 cloves of garlic cut in half lengthwise 1 tablespoon mustard seed 10 fresh bay leaves 4 tablespoons coriander seeds 2 teaspoons black peppercorns 1 tablespoon allspice 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped Hinkelhatz peppers, or whole seeded pods to taste 8 ounces (250g) cauliflower broken into small florets 8 ounces (250g) sliced green tomato 8 ounces (250g) sliced baby cucumbers 8 ounces (250g) carrot, pared and cut diagonally into paper thin slices 8 ounces (250g) sweet peppers seeded and cut into irregular pieces (green or red, preferably red) 1 ½ quarts (1 ½ liters) spring water 2 cups (500ml) white wine vinegar or 1 cup garlic flavored vinegar plus 1 cup coriander flavored vinegar 1/3 cup (90g) pickling salt
Place half the dill in the bottom of a non-reactive crock or large sanitized glass jar. Combine all the ingredients in a deep work bowl, and when thoroughly mixed, pour into a crock or glass preserve jar. Heat the spring water, vinegar, and salt in a non-reactive preserving pan and bring to a full boil for 3 minutes. Pour this over the vegetables, place the remaining dill on top and cover. Once cool, set aside in a refrigerator or cool pantry to marinate 3 weeks before using. Check the pickle from time to time to adjust the heat of the peppers. Add more ripe peppers if it does not seem hot enough.
Today, the ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper is available in the Seed Savers catalog, having gained attention for its flavor, compact habit, and prolific production. Slow Food USA features this pepper in its ‘Ark of Taste’ because of its importance as a part of America’s food heritage, and Weaver discusses it in his book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. Help preserve a unique heirloom variety and grow some ‘Hinkelhatz!'
Untouchable by hurricanes, impervious to tectonic movement, protected by polar bears, and reachable only through methods worthy of reality television - the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides the ultimate in long term storage for seed. On February 14th, Seed Savers Exchange sent its sixth shipment of seed to the vault, located on a remote archipelago in arctic Norway. This vault serves as a global gene bank for the world’s food crops, and will provide long-term back up for Seed Saver Exchange’s preservation collections. To date, Seed Savers Exchange has deposited a total of 2,248 unique varieties, and continues to deposit seeds of several hundred varieties every year.
To prepare the seeds for long-term storage, seeds are dried until they have approximately 5% moisture content, and are then heat sealed into air-tight packets. Once inside the vault, the packets will be kept at 0°F (-17°C) and will remain viable for a very long time. Similar to a safe deposit box at the bank, only Seed Savers Exchange has access to the materials deposited. This ‘Black Box’ agreement is made with each depositor, and ensures that only the depositor can access their own seeds in the vault.
The Svalbard seed vault was built deep into mountainous permafrost, which keeps the vault at below freezing temperatures even without a cooling system. Furthermore, its treacherous and remote location protects the vault from possible harm due to natural disasters and human powered calamities like a nuclear bomb strike. This kind of protection ensures Seed Savers Exchanges’ seeds will be safe for many years to come.
“As one of 1400 seed banks in the world, Seed Savers Exchange is proud to deposit an additional 366 varieties in the Svalbard Global Seed Bank in Norway, bringing our total deposits to more than 2,000 varieties. The global seed bank, with 725,000 total deposits, represents man’s best efforts to ensure that today's seed varieties are available for future generations.” – John Torgimson, Seed Savers Exchange president.
Read more about the genetic resources preservation efforts at Seed Savers Exchange here.
At 96 years of age, Theodore Meece was honored as Kentucky’s Oldest Worker. While a heart ailment caused by old age slowed the accomplished centennialist as he grew older, Theodore continued to work on his farm until passing away in 2006 at 105 years old.
Theodore Meece began life on September 3, 1901. Living on a farm, he learned the value of hard work from an early age. Theodore had his first job making 50 cents a day digging grubs out of the fields when 12 years old. In his teens, he traveled by himself to work the oil fields in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he also taught himself to drive. Theodore learned to read from his grandmother, and traveled great distances to complete high school – a noted accomplishment of his time.
In Theodore’s mid-twenties, he met his wife at a post office where young locals spent their time after work, and they settled down on her family’s land in Somerset, Kentucky.
Here he established a farm and taught in rural schools for 31 years. He often shared seeds and plants with neighbors, while sometimes eliciting friendly competition about the size and taste of various vegetables. Theodore shared a bean he called ‘Meece’, which was so popular locally that it was mentioned in his obituary.
Theodore first obtained his bean when he settled in Somerset from locals Idy and Minnie Snell. Minnie called it a ‘cornfield bean’ as locals often grew the variety on Hickory Cane corn. This corn variety would grow 12-14 feet tall, and the ears would be used for pickling and roasting whole. The bean was shared between neighbors and passed down through generations of the Snell family, where it is still grown by Minnie’s great-grandson, Gene, who calls it ‘Minnie’ bean in her honor.
Though Theodore has passed away, his legacy lives on in the story of the ‘Theodore Meece’ bean. John Inabnit donated the bean to Seed Savers Exchange with the following note:
“The Theodore Meece bean came from Theodore Meece of Poplarville, KY, just a few miles down the road from where I live. Mr. Meece is going to be 105 this year. Someone really needs to do a story on him. He is a retired school teacher, farmer, taught Sundy School for 75 years, remembers the 1st car, airplane in this area and is a real character. He kept his drivers license til he was 100.”
Theodore’s bean can be eaten as shelling beans, and have a good flavor and moist texture. The Snell family often pickled or dried fresh snap beans to use in the winter. The dried beans are oval and have a creamy tan grey-blushed base with an overlay of dark brown stripes and mottles.
Read more about our plant collections here.
Heirloom tomatoes are the highlight of summer—beautiful colors and bountiful flavors! Preserve the bounty for next year by saving seed of your favorite tomato varieties. You only need a few fruit to get started, so watch the slideshow below and learn how. By doing so you'll carry on a gardening tradition that is many generations old.Read More
The Teaching Garden at Seed Savers Exchange demonstrates important seed saving concepts. Throughout the growing season, we'll discuss these concepts by taking a closer look at different beds in this garden. In a previous blog post, we looked at How Your Plants Pollinate. Our second stop on the tour is at the Life Cycle beds.
A plant can have one of three different life cycles depending on when it produces flowers and seed: annual, biennial, or perennial. To properly save seed, it's important to know the life cycles of the plants in your garden - it's not always as obvious as it seems!
The first bed contains some annual plant types: lettuce, radish, and pea (pictured below). An annual plant will germinate, grow, flower, and fruit in one growing season. When an annual has finished producing seed, the plant dies. To flower, lettuce will grow a large flower stalk and shed the lower leaves, producing white fluffy seeds. Radish roots enlarge, becoming too bitter and tough for eating. The above-ground radish plant will become big and bushy, producing white and purple flowers and edible seed pods. Pea plants will decline after flowering has finished, and the seeds will harden as the pods and vines turn yellow and dry out.
The second bed contains kale, Swiss chard, and onion, examples of biennial plant types. A biennial plant completes its life cycle over two growing seasons. In the first year, the plant focuses on vegetative growth by producing leaves and roots that store energy and nutrients. Most biennials (i.e. onion and kale) are harvested for eating during the first year of their life cycle. During winter, the plant conserves energy for the next growing season when it will flower and produce seed. Because biennials must overwinter, extra steps should be taken in colder climates to prevent damage to the underground parts. In this bed (pictured on the right), the onion were overwintered with straw mulch and are now flowering. The kale and Swiss chard will not flower and produce a seed crop until next year.
A perennial has a continuous growth cycle that can persist for many growing seasons. In general, a perennial will flower and fruit every year, but a tremendous amount of variation exists within perennials. Some perennial plants are woody and will flower and fruit after several years of juvenile growth, while others are herbaceous and die back every winter to newly flower and fruit in the spring. "Tender perennials" are very sensitive to cold temperatures and are grown as annuals in most climates. Several of our beds feature tender perennials like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and okra that will die back at the end of the season due to cold weather.
Below you will find a list of common annuals and biennials, with tender perennials listed among the annuals. Use the following list as a guide, and refer to Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed for information on specific crop types.
Until next time, happy gardening!
Annuals: amaranth, bean, broccoli*, corn, cowpea, cucumber, eggplant, fava, gourd, ground cherry, lettuce, lima, melon, mustard, okra, pea, peanut, pepper, poppy, potato, radish (non-daikon), runner bean, sorghum, spinach, squash, sunflower, tomatillo, tomato, watermelon
Biennials: beet, broccoli*, Brussels sprout, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chicory, Chinese cabbage, collard, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leek, onion, parsley, parsnip, radish (daikon), rutabaga, Swiss chard, turnip
*Broccoli is a biennial crop, but short season varieties act as annuals when planted early in the spring.
The radishes at Heritage Farm are in full bloom! Our flowering beauties may no longer be edible, but they are well on their way to producing seed. Luckily, most radishes grow quickly and will produce seed in one season.
Cool Radishes Radishes are wonderfully diverse with many different colors, shapes and sizes! Spring and summer varieties can be pink, red, white, golden, or purple. They can be shaped like bulbs, be more elongated like fingers, or even taper like carrots. Winter varieties are much larger, often black, and need a longer growing season to mature. Daikon radishes, an Oriental winter type, have long white roots prized for their crisp and tender flesh. Some radishes, such as the Rat-Tailed radish, are grown for their edible seed pods rather than their roots. The entire seed pod is edible, and has a lighter radish bite. Who knew?
This season, we grew a very special radish in the Diversity Garden named 'Colony Summerrettig'. Charles Hoehnle of Homestead, Iowa donated the seed of this variety in 1995. It originated from the Amana Colonies of central Iowa, which were settled in 1856 by a group of German Pietists. These settlers lived a self-sufficient communal life until the mid-1930s. This radish was grown in the colony gardens, prized for its purple roots and ability to reseed for a fall crop. Our planting in the Diversity Garden grew to be quite big before flowering!
How to Grow Radishes Not only are radishes easy and quick to grow, but you can plant them all season long. Direct seed radishes 1" apart and 1/2" deep as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Rows should be 12" apart for proper root development. When seedlings are about 1" tall, thin to 2-3" apart. Most radishes are ready to eat when their root tops peak out of the soil. Plant successively every 2-3 weeks for a constant supply of radishes.
How to Eat Radishes Radishes have a spicy bite that makes a wonderful addition to salads and veggie platters. If you're looking for something different, try sweet and sour radish pickles! Put sliced radishes in a jar with green onions or garlic, and enough vinegar, sugar, and oil to cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to eight hours, making sure to shake the jar every so often. When chilled, you'll have a tangy treat to enjoy that cuts some of the radish bite but packs a bunch of flavor!
How to Save Radish Seed Most radish varieties are annuals that will flower and produce seed within one growing season. They are insect-pollinated out-breeders, meaning they will cross with any and all varieties of wild and domesticated varieties. Varieties should be separated by 1/2 mile or more to prevent cross-pollination. If distance or isolation is not possible in your own garden plant a single variety, and be aware if neighboring gardens have different radish varieties flowering at the same time.
Because radishes require that pollen be transferred from one plant to another for successful pollination, a fairly large population size is best for good seed production. Seed pods will develop on the large flower stalks (up to 3′) and tan as the seed matures and plant begins to dry. Harvest the seed stalks when all parts are fully dry. Seeds are tricky to remove from dried seed pods and may require a bit of force.
Let us know what your radishes look like this season! If you're looking for something different, check out the Seed Savers Exchange collection of radishes in the online catalog, and use our gardening forum if you have any questions, comments, or concerns while growing. Happy gardening!
Our teaching garden at Seed Savers Exchange demonstrates important seed saving concepts. Throughout the season, I’ll take you on a tour to discuss some of these concepts. The first stop on our tour is the Pollination bed. It is important that seed savers understand how their plants pollinate in order to prevent varieties in the same species from cross-pollinating. In this bed we are growing tomatillos, spinach, amaranth and cucumbers to demonstrate different flower types. Flowers exist to facilitate pollination, which occurs when pollen is transferred from the male anther to the female stigma. In some plants, this occurs before the flower even opens. In other plants, pollinators such as humans, insects, or wind are required to transfer the pollen.
Tomatillos have perfect flowers. These flowers have both male and female organs, allowing for self-pollination. Tomatillos are “selfers” that can pollinate before their flower even opens.
Selfers are good plants to choose if you are a beginning seed saver. Selfers include tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, and lettuce. And remember, in nature there are always exceptions to the rule—just because a plant can self-pollinate doesn’t mean that it can't cross pollinate.
Spinach and cucumber have imperfect flowers. These flowers have either male or female organs. If male and female flowers are on different plants, the species is dioecious. In order to produce seed, pollen must travel from male plants to the female plants. Spinach is dioecious, and requires the wind to pollinate. Asparagus is also dioecious, and relies on insects for pollination.
Cucumber flowers are imperfect as well. However, cucumbers—as well as squash, melons, watermelons, and gourds—are monoecious, with male and female flowers on the same plant. Notice the immature fruit at the base of the female flower pictured above. In the Cucurbitaceae family, insects are required to transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers for pollination to occur. Corn is also a monoecious plant with imperfect flowers (the tassels represent the male flowers, and the developing ears represent the female flowers), though corn relies on wind for pollination.
Take a few minutes to identify male and female flowers in your home garden. Congratulations you are officially one step closer to becoming a seed saver!
Deciding which seed to plant can be a daunting task, and the decision is often more complicated than simply trying to pick which beautiful tomatoes to grow. Among the more important decisions every gardener makes is the choice between open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seed varieties. Each of these seed types has something to offer, depending on the gardener's needs, interests, and values.Read More