Feaster Heirloom Mustard Feast

Feaster Heirloom Mustard Feast

When he donated seeds to us last year, Jerome said, “Cool weather is greens weather, and we like to eat these greens on special occasions. A popular menu is to have them served with sweet potatoes and ham.” Well, this year, Jerome wanted to share his tradition with the staff at SSE, so he sent up a box of freshly picked greens to help us celebrate New Year’s Day!

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Seed Savers Exchange Members Evaluate the Collection

Seed Savers Exchange Members Evaluate the Collection

Each year Seed Savers Exchange members from across North America trial garden varieties from SSE's genebank collection. They send us reports on performance and taste qualities, and photos of the varieties growing in their gardens and harvested in their kitchens. Read on to find out some the results we've seen and some of the varieties we've tested.

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Evaluating Heirlooms with 2014 Conference Attendees

Evaluating Heirlooms with 2014 Conference Attendees

Part of the evaluation process (and arguably the most fun) involves Tasting Trials. Aside from SSE Members who participate in the Member Grower Evaluation Network (M-GEN), the Evaluation Program has not requested public participation in the Taste Trials up until this point. Sixty-five participants at the 2014 Conference and Campout gave us detailed rankings and notes about 4 snap beans, 5 carrots, 4 collards, and 11 kale.

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Column Blowers and Blowing Snow: A Winter Internship

Column Blowers and Blowing Snow: A Winter Internship

For folks unfamiliar with what this organization does, the new year might seem to be a slow time for a place like Seed Savers Exchange. Nothing is growing, and all of last season’s seeds have been harvested, cleaned, and stored – what more is there to do until spring sowing?

After four wintery weeks of working here, I can tell you there is still plenty to do.

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An Afternoon in the Preservation Lab

An Afternoon in the Preservation Lab

The Preservation Lab at Seed Savers Exchange was buzzing with activity on this Friday afternoon in February. With about 13 full-time employees whose specializations range from germination testing to seed storage and everything in between, there's always something interesting happening in the Preservation Lab.

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Behind the Barn Door


Grandpa Ott’s morning glories cover the south face of the iconic barn at Heritage Farm, home of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). But don’t be fooled by the scenery! This barn is much more than a pretty postcard – especially come harvest time.

Seed Savers Exchange

Behind that wall of sleepy purple blossoms lies one of the busiest seed-saving operations in the country — the first hint of which is the unmistakable sweet aroma of ripe melons drifting from the open double doors. Colorful piles of ripe fruits and veggies sit waiting in buckets while fans blow gently over screens and drying racks full of tiny seeds. The colors, smells and sounds are almost as overwhelming as the neatly printed to-do list on the staff white board.

To-do listBut of course it hasn’t always been like this. SSE’s seed saving operation started in a kitchen, probably much like your own, almost 40 years ago. That’s where we started the seed saving renaissance that is taking place today. If you’re reading this post, it means that you’re part of this movement, and may want to do more.

You could start by saving your own seeds this season. But even if you don’t, there is something important you can do right now to help the cause of saving biodiversity and our country’s vanishing garden heritage. And you won’t need any special tools or equipment to do it.

By making a year-end gift to Seed Savers Exchange you can help fulfill our non-profit mission to conserve and promote heirloom vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs. Your generosity will make possible the continuation and expansion of our critical preservation and outreach programs and will allow us to:

  • Grow out more than 600 varieties in our collection next year, so that we can evaluate, improve germination and replenish seed stocks
  • Provide educational webinars on seed saving, hand pollination and seed harvesting to serve a national audience of backyard gardeners, community gardeners and seed library members
  • Facilitate the exchange of thousands of seed varieties among backyard preservationists through the SSE Yearbook and Online Seed Exchange, one of the greatest sources of heirloom varieties in the world
  • Maintain thousands of varieties of open-pollinated plant types in our seed bank in keeping with genetic preservation standards
  • Document valuable cultural and historical information on varieties

Thank you for your ongoing support and for making a gift to help Seed Savers Exchange do more to preserve our country’s rich agricultural diversity today! By safeguarding the seeds of our garden heritage you will ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.


DonatePS: The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 plant species today are threatened with extinction. Support us in our efforts to reverse this trend by giving a tax deductible donation today!


Join SSESeed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

Despite concerns that our tomatoes would not ripen in time for the event, over 40 heirloom and open-pollinated tomato varieties (and one mega-mart hybrid tomato) competed for the title of this year's favorite. SSE staff, friends, and family brought tomatoes from gardens across northeast Iowa and Wisconsin to serve over 800 event attendees.

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Varietal Evaluations: Carrots


The Preservation Department at Seed Savers Exchange works hard to maintain the rare collection of heirloom varieties we've acquired from farmers and gardeners over the past few decades. In order to keep this collection alive and well, our staff carefully plans and implements grow-outs to evaluate the varieties and regenerate seed stock. As part of this evaluation process, staff take meticulous notes about the characteristics of each variety when grown out. These photos document the evaluation process of a few carrot varieties (Daucus carota) after harvest, although evaluations of each variety really begin with the seed before it is planted.  

Carrot Evaluations




Freshly harvested and cleaned carrots.






Taking Photos




Horticultural Technician Steffen Mirsky takes portrait photos of the harvested varieties.






Data Entry




Detailed information is entered into a database for each variety on such characteristics as color, shape, length, and weight, as well as other criteria.





Carrot Scan



Varieties are then scanned and archived with the collected data.





Raw ‘Jaune de Doubs’ Carrots




The carrots are sliced to analyze interior characteristics and for raw taste-testing (picture: 'Jaune de Doubs').






Steaming Carrots



The carrots are steamed until tender. The steamed carrots are tasted and evaluated for culinary use.





Cooked ‘Amstel’ Carrots


Summary descriptions of each variety are written for the SSE Yearbook, with the hope that these descriptions will encourage gardeners to take the seeds from our collection and put them in their gardens and on their dinner tables (pictured: 'Amstel').



Please consider becoming a member of Seed Savers Exchange to support these preservation and evaluation efforts. Along with many other benefits, SSE members are able to access thousands of rare and unique heirloom seeds offered by other members in our annual Yearbook. Seed Savers Exchange also offers seeds from our vast collection in the Yearbook, allowing members much more diversity to choose from than what's available in the commercial catalog. In 2013, Seed Savers Exchange is offering 2,431 different varieties in the Yearbook for members to request. Join us today to help conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage.


Join SSE

Located six miles north of Decorah, IA, Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and distribution of heirloom seeds.  Seed Savers maintains a collection of thousands of open pollinated varieties, making it one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the United States.  For more information, go to seedsavers.org



Garlic Escapades

Garlic Scape in the Field

Whether blended in a soup, pickled in a mason jar or baked in an omelet, eating is the best way to utilize scapes, a farm and garden byproduct of garlic. Seed Savers Exchange is conducting its first ever evaluation of over 300 garlic varieties in its production garden this year, which means harvesting a lot of scapes for scanning, as well as to ensure the garlic bulbs are adequately plump and ready for replanting in October. Looking out across the half-acre field waving with crowns of silvery green, these several hundred varieties may appear identical to the untrained eye, but in fact differ considerably in size and shape. Many are uniform in their likeness (streaking brown leaves as some had matured early), still others display anthropomorphic qualities unique to their row: one variety like a sumo wrestler, squat and thick, while another resembles the stern form of a lawman. Taken together, the melded identities of Allium sativum are a chorus of opportunity for SSE to learn more about this species (and its flowering appendage) in the Allium genus.

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Our trial field includes both hard and softneck garlics. For those of us new to garlic varieties, softneck garlic doesn’t produce scapes, and generally isn’t as hardy (hence the cognate of its opposite, the “hardneck”), but, it does store better and mature quicker. The bulb size of many hardneck varieties is improved by removing the scape—its flowering stalk which eventually produces bulbils and flowers—hence getting “plump and ready for October." Some varieties, however, don't mind if you leave their scapes on until harvest time, such as those in the Turban group. It just goes to show – the more we learn about each variety’s characteristics, from planting to harvest, the more we’ll understand their preferences, personalities, and how best to make use of them.

Here’s a quick primer on Preservation’s Field & Lab Plant Evaluation

Any characteristic that has a genetic basis is recorded in evaluations at SSE, which, specific to garlic, includes observing and measuring:

1. leaf color 2. leaf posture 3. stalk height (or pseudostem) 4. scape shape (if applicable)

Everything is recorded into Preservation’s database—the hardneck scapes are harvested and scanned into a digital format—and staff can glory in the perk of free scapes for eating!

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Garlic taste tests to follow… meanwhile, check out some of these intriguing recipes, and keep us posted on your favorite uses for scapes!


Garlic Visit the online store to purchase our certified organic seed garlic today. Over 10 varieties to choose from-- They will sell out!


Check out this slide show and cheat sheet for planting your garlic.