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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The Royal Family (...of heirloom seeds!)

The Royal Family (...of heirloom seeds!)

Prince George of Cambridge has been big news this past year, and so have our seeds in this royal collection! Just in time for the royal wedding anniversary, we've compiled a list of our most royally-named heirloom, organic, and open-pollinated varieties. Every seed we preserve is special in its own right, but these are sure to make your garden fit for a king or queen.

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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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Fresh from the Garden

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden When I grab a basket and go to my garden to gather fresh vegetables and herbs, it's like going to my own little market.  I look at gardening as a good workout and a chance to listen to the sounds of nature.

My favorite summertime recipes are those that require one trip to the garden to gather most of the ingredients, such as the following.

This recipe, as seen in the 2009 Seed Savers Exchange calendar, was a prize winner in the 2002 Food for Thought Recipe Contest in Madison, Wisconsin and printed in From Asparagus to Zucchini, a cookbook sponsored by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition.

I used the 'Amish Paste' tomato in this recipe. The healthy vines are producing blemish-free, flavorful red fruit that is excellent for fresh eating as well as preserving. Our growing season started out very wet and cool, and despite the dry weather since then, these plants continue to produce beautiful, tasty fruit.

The green beans I used were 'Ideal Market' and 'Purple Podded Pole' which are both very productive varieties. The Ideal Market produces colorful blossoms, and of course the Purple Podded Pole plant is decorative in all stages.

Prizewinner Green Beans with Tomatoes and Herbs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 clove garlic, minced ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes ½ cup sliced onions 2 teaspoons dried ground thyme ¼ cup water 1 pound green beans, ends clipped, cut in half 1 sprig rosemary, leaves torn off the stem 2 medium tomatoes cut into wedges Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant. Add onions, sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add water, thyme, and green beans. Stir. Cover, and steam-cook beans until nearly done, 10-15 minutes. Stir in rosemary and tomatoes. Cook briefly, until tomatoes are warmed through. Season as necessary. Serves 4.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

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.

SSE Collection Bean 5396: 'Theodore Meece'

Bean 5396 on the vine

'Theodore Meece' on the vine 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 Meece with his beans

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.

Evaluation Program Highlights for 2012

bean6042_830 (2)

The Evaluation Program

Maintaining and distributing unique heirloom and open-pollinated seeds is the primary goal of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) gene bank. The Evaluation Program is an important link between maintaining varieties at Heritage Farm and getting them into the hands of gardeners, chefs, and farmers.

The Evaluation Program, which is only three years old, was started with the financial support from people like you. The program allows us to collect data on a variety’s traits throughout its life cycle. This data includes characteristics such as plant height, flower color, days to maturity, and fruit size.

  • In 2012 staff recorded more than 40,000 evaluation descriptors on over 1,000 different accessions.

Bringing Back Food Culture

evaluation scan

The program also evaluates culinary usage—incredibly important in a world of unsustainable eating and forgotten food cultures. Modern fruits and vegetables bred for shipping and uniformity lack the diversity seen in heirloom varieties—like beets, potatoes, cabbages, and apples that store for months in a root cellar; horticultural beans harvested between the snap and dry bean phases for their higher protein content; and melons best suited for baking. The forgotten traits in these varieties are the building blocks to a sustainable food system.

The information collected through the evaluation program serves several purposes. It allows us to:

  • Increase our knowledge about each variety and make that information available to gardeners.
  • Make informed management decisions about the collection by developing a comprehensive profile of each accession.
  • Reintroduce unique and rare varieties into the marketplace.

From the Preservation Gardens

For the first time ever, Seed Savers Exchange is offering a collection of varieties ‘From the Preservation Gardens’ in our catalog this year. These varieties were selected because of their interesting histories, unique characteristics, and popularity with staff—a direct result of the Evaluation Program.

  • Join us in our efforts to preserve our garden heritage for future generations to come. With your financial support for the Evaluation Program, we can rediscover our food culture—one variety at a time.

donateA tax-deductible donation to Seed Savers Exchange will help us continue to maintain genetic diversity through projects like the Evaluation Program. Support our effort by making a donation or becoming a member online today, or call us at (563) 382-5990 (M-F, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm Central Time).

Thank you for your support,

John Torgrimson Executive Director

SSE 2013 Calendar

P.S. Donate $150 or more before December 31, 2012 and receive a free Seed Savers Exchange 2013 Calendar, which offers a beautiful glimpse of nature's seed bounty at Heritage Farm near Decorah, Iowa, where every seed has a story to tell.

 


2012 Evaluation Highlights

 

Horticultural Beans (Shelling Beans)

bean scan

Eating beans from the pod, when the beans are fully expanded but not yet dry, is becoming a lost culinary tradition in America. The plump, wet, beans do not store well, and they are difficult to shell mechanically because the tender beans cannot tolerate rough handling. For these reasons, shelling beans have been shunned by industrial agriculture. However, the flavor is rich and shelling beans are richer in nutrients than dry beans. We added a horticultural bean taste test to our 2012 bean evaluation and found that most beans taste good as shelling beans, and some taste really good! Many that performed well in our taste test were not necessarily known as shelling beans historically. For example, “Bessie” (Bean 6042) has been passed down maternally in Frances Sullivan’s family for over a century, each generation using it primarily as a green bean for fresh eating and canning.

Tomato 324 ‘D. Jena Lee’s Golden Girl’

tomato scan

This variety really caught our attention in the 2012 taste test. We described it as having “excellent robust flavor, sweet and slightly tart, low-medium acidity, firm and meaty texture but still juicy, great as a slicing tomato.” Curious about the variety, we investigated its history and discovered that it is mis-named in our collection and should be called “Djena Lee’s Golden Girl.” We are not the first to notice its outstanding flavor. It is promoted by Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, and won the Chicago Fair’s taste test 10 years in a row in the 1920s and 1930s. Though historically, women played a central role in developing and improving varieties in America’s gardens, Djena Lee was one of the few female plant breeders who enjoyed recognition for her efforts in early 20th century America.

Kohlrabi 44 ‘Giant Czechoslovakian’

kohlrabi scan

Most kohlrabi reach market maturity in 50-60 days and quickly become woody if left in the field. For that reason, we complete our market mature evaluation at 60 days. One variety in our evaluation grow-out, ‘Giant Czechoslovakian,’ did not form a kohlrabi head at 60 days. We thought it did not care for the spring weather. But in our fall grow-out of the same varieties, it again produced no stem-swelling at 60 days. We began to question whether it was really a kohlrabi, or if our seed-stock was compromised by crossing with another Brassica oleracea. We researched similarly named varieties in commercial catalogs, promoted as a 130 day maturity kohlrabi that does not get woody even when large. Then we went back to the long-forgotten spring planting and found enormous kohlrabis! Harvested at 176 days, they tasted great!

 Squash 5080 ‘Dostal Cucumber’ Squash

This squash’s oblong shape, size, and dark green mature color make it look somewhat like a cucumber. A staff favorite as a winter squash, this year we evaluated this pepo squash as a summer squash as well.  To our surprise, ‘Dostal’ turned out to be a favorite 2012 summer squash - with its dense flesh and mildly sweet flavor. It went on to win accolades again in the 2012 winter squash taste evaluation for its buttery, smooth texture and complex, rich flavor. ‘Dostal’ has proven that we cannot make assumptions about the versatile varieties in our collection based on the limitations of more modern, highly specialized varieties.

Seed Savers Exchange Member Profile - Russ Crow (IL CR R)

Blue Jay bean Each year, hundreds of gardeners from all corners of the world share heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties they’ve collected from their own backyards.

Within Seed Savers Exchange they’re known as Listed Members, the core of our seed exchange and the source of more than 10,000 varieties that are listed in our annual Yearbook. To other SSE members, they’re often known individually by their listed member code (IL CR R).

Each month, we’ll be profiling one of our listed members in order to give our audience a closer look at some of the individuals responsible for preserving America’s endangered garden heritage.

I had the opportunity to interview Russ Crow in the spring of 2012. Russ was a part of Seed Savers Exchange back when the organization was just getting started in the mid-1970’s. Though he took a break from gardening in the 90s, Russ has since returned to one of his horticultural passions—beans—and currently serves as an important informational resource to our seed historian.

The following audio clips describe Russ’s discovery and subsequent stabilization of a new bean variety discovered in his garden in 1977, as well as his initial forays into seed saving and the reason he continues saving seeds himself.

Blue Jay bean (Russ Crow audio) [audio: http://blog.seedsavers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/russcrowbluejay.mp3|titles=Russ Crow - Blue Jay Bean]

How I Started Saving Seeds (Russ Crow audio) [audio: http://blog.seedsavers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/russcrowhowistartedseedsaving.mp3|titles=Russ Crow - How I Started Saving Seeds]

To learn how to access the largest heirloom seed catalog in the world and browse over 12,000 listings from Russ and hundreds of other members, visit seedsavers.org.