Few vegetables elicit as strong a reaction in people as lima beans. We either love them or hate them. However, most of us can agree that lima beans from the frozen foods section of the grocery store are vastly inferior to homegrown ones. So, if you have ruled lima beans out of your diet, we urge you to give them another chance. At Seed Savers Exchange, we have over 300 varieties of lima beans in our Heritage Farm Collection, displaying a tremendous array of colors and patterns.Read More
At Seed Savers Exchange we sometimes lovingly refer to our collection of 103 turnips and 81 rutabagas as “turnabagas.” Confusion reigns over these crop types; many turnips in our collection are actually rutabagas. Much of the confusion stems from the fact that a common name for rutabaga is Swedish turnip. Botanically, however, the two are different species. Our favorite example of this confusion is the ‘Westport’, or ‘Macomber’, turnip, or as it’s known in the Heritage Farm Collection, Turnip 8.Read More
Philip Kauth, assistant curator, and Steffen Mirsky, horticultural technician, make up the Seed Savers Exchange Evaluation Team. The Eval Team is the division of the Preservation Department that keeps detailed records of more characteristics than most people know an individual variety can have. Their work helps us differentiate between the varieties in our collection and describe them clearly in the Yearbook. This is the first in their new blog series, Step up to the Plate, a monthly profile of a variety that stands out to the evaluation professionals.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
Corn (Zea mays) is what we around here consider a ‘promiscuous pollinator.’ That’s because it is an outcrossing, wind-pollinated crop. Because corn relies on wind to carry pollen from the tassels to the silks, the light pollen grains may travel a few miles before finding and pollinating a silk. Your neighbor’s corn can therefore very easily pollinate yours, making it tricky to save pure seed from your open-pollinated corn.Read More
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.
Freshly harvested and cleaned carrots.
Horticultural Technician Steffen Mirsky takes portrait photos of the harvested varieties.
Detailed information is entered into a database for each variety on such characteristics as color, shape, length, and weight, as well as other criteria.
Varieties are then scanned and archived with the collected data.
The carrots are sliced to analyze interior characteristics and for raw taste-testing (picture: 'Jaune de Doubs').
The carrots are steamed until tender. The steamed carrots are tasted and evaluated for culinary use.
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.
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
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!