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

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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!

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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

data-entry

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

 

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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!

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

Then...

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

Mary Ann Fox: Legacy of a Seed Saver

Mary Ann Fox

Mary Ann Fox's Seeds In my role as an inventory technician for the Preservation Collection at Heritage Farm, I encounter the mundane and meaningful in almost equal parts. There’s no reliable rhythm to it. Some days are complete numbers-data tedium, while others are full of gratifying meaning.

Mary Ann Fox

My work over the past few weeks has been leaning heavily (in a good way) toward the gratifyingly meaningful. We have in just the past week received at Heritage Farm a large seed collection comprising just over two hundred bean varieties. This collection came to us from Mary Ann Fox, longtime listed member of Seed Savers Exchange from Shelbyville, Indiana, who died this past February at the age of 71. Mary Ann’s relatives, realizing the worth and importance of the collection and having to confront its monumental scope, were especially anxious to identify someone who could not only take the mass of seed off their hands, but who could also find eager stewards of Mary Ann’s seed-saving legacy.

Enter Jim Kelly, SSE member and friend to Mary Ann. Not only did Jim find a temporary storage location for the collection and move the countless plastic seed-filled bottles to the location, he also began imagining ways in which the collection could be shared among seed savers. Eventually Jim contacted Heritage Farm to find out if there were a way the staff here could collaborate and assist. Together, we came up with a plan to distribute Mary Ann’s seed collection at the Seed Savers Exchange 2013 Conference and Campout.

Inventorying the Seeds

An important step in preparing the collection for distribution is a thorough inventory and labeling of each seed sample. This has been my task over the past few days and will likely take another few days to complete. While the work may seem tedious and mundane to the outside observer, handling these artifacts of Mary Ann’s legacy—noting the care with which she filed and labeled each variety—is a profoundly meaningful “chore.”

Would you like to celebrate and honor Mary Ann’s seed-saving legacy right in your own garden? Will you be attending the July 2013 Conference and Campout? Look for the tent with racks of beautiful bean seeds in clear plastic bottles. I’ll be there with a collection catalog to help you choose the two or three (or four or more!) varieties that you want to take home to your garden. Or just come by to meet and talk with me and other seed savers. There will be great conversations about the ways in which we have all benefited from past seed savers, and you might even be inspired to get more actively involved in seed saving yourself. See you there!

Evaluating Dried Legumes

Lima282 Pod

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:

Bean3461

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.

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Jump94 Blossom

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.

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Cowpea16 Blossom and Pods

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.’

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Lima282 Pod

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.