Saving Seeds from Biennial Plants

Saving Seeds from Biennial Plants

This month we asked two experienced staff members at Seed Savers Exchange to share their knowledge about saving seeds from biennials. Our Field Manager, Bryan Stuart, and one of our Field Technicians, Trevor Madsen, took the time to answer a few questions about biennial plants. Read on for their detailed responses or click through the slideshow for some quick biennial seed saving steps.

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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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Apple Pie: One more reason to preserve heritage apples

Apple Pie

Seed Savers Exchange Orchard Manager Dan Bussey is known around Heritage Farm for a lot of things. Most obviously he’s known for a vast knowledge of heritage and heirloom apple diversity and his upcoming book documenting thousands of them. In fact, he’s known nationally for his knowledge on everything apples. Still, many staff members know him for his colorful comments on all-staff e-mail threads; a few lucky folks know him for his skills as a hard cider and apple brandy maker; if you’re in the right place at the right time, you know him for his fantastic apple pies. I recently caught up with Dan one morning and tagged along as he performed his magic, whipping up one of these famous pies.

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When you have an orchard like Seed Savers with 550 apple varieties, no two pies are the same (or at least they shouldn’t be—what’s the fun in that?). Knowing which varieties were ripe and ready this week, Dan led us through the orchard to collect apples from the Lewis Incomparable, Worchester Pearmain, and Summer Gold trees.  I asked Dan what the pros and cons were for using multiple varieties in one pie. The obvious answer was because of the complexity an assortment of apples will add to the flavor, but also that different textures can be complementary. Having one apple variety that cooks down and loses its form will give the pie an apple filling to supplement the other, firmer apple slices. Just remember to slice harder apples thinner and slice softer apples thicker. Dan also mentioned how Northerners have traditionally used tart apples for their pies, while Southerners prefer sweeter apples, so the level of sweetness for pie apples is a matter of preference.

After collecting the apples we headed inside to prepare the pie. Here’s what we used:

  • 6-10 baking apples (For apples that hold their shape, use less; for apples that cook down, use more)
  • Crust (make your own or buy pre-made)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rounded cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon rounded tapioca (for thickener)
  • 1 pinch ground ginger
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tablespoons milk or cream
  • lemon juice

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Peel and slice apples, putting them in lemon water to prevent oxidization and to provide a little tartness. Slice thin for firmer apples that hold their shape when cooked, such as Lewis Incomparable, and slice thick for varieties that cook down, such as Worchester Pearmain or Summer Gold. Preheat oven to 375. Prepare crust and place bottom crust in pie pan, letting it hang over the edge. Remove apple slices from lemon water and toss in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, tapioca, ginger, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. Arrange apples slices so there are no gaps or empty spaces. Brush on milk or cream on bottom crust as glue, and place top crust over apples. Using a fork, apply pressure around the edge to seal. Fold bottom crust over top crust, and make your way around the edge, pinching to seal. Cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to vent out. Sprinkle pie with cinnamon, sugar, and Vietnamese cinnamon, to taste. Place in preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until bubbles and steam come out of the vents.

If you have tips, tricks, or suggestions for making a good apple pie, leave a comment below!

Help Seed Savers Exchange preserve our apple heritage by becoming a member or making a donation today.

About Seed Savers Exchange (SSE): Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, 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.

2013 Conference and Campout Slideshow

Diane's garden tour

With nearly 400 attendees from across the U.S. and beyond, the 33rd Annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference and Campout was a huge success. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) members are passionate about what they do, and events like this are important for networking, seed swapping, and sharing knowledge. The conference also introduced new seed savers and gardeners to resources, information, and gave many the inspiration to get started.

For the first time ever, Seed Savers Exchange held a Member Field Day on Friday before the conference started. Over 150 members were given behind-the-scenes tours and discussed possibilities for future member engagements with SSE staff and board members. It was a wonderfully productive day that is sure to become a fixture at future SSE Conferences.

Another highlight from the Conference was the distribution of former SSE member Mary Ann Fox's bean collection. SSE inherited Mary Ann's enormous seed collection after her passing in February, and successfully distributed the entire collection to seed savers at the Conference who were eager to carry on her legacy. Read about Mary Ann Fox in our blog and in Modern Farmer Magazine, and look to the Harvest edition of our membership publication, The Heritage Farm Companion, for in-depth coverage of both the member field day and the distribution of Mary Ann's bean collection.


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Click here to read about the 2014 Conference and Campout set for July 18-20, 2014

Check back on our blog to see more coverage of the 2013 Conference and Campout. Now posted: Gary Paul Nabhan's keynote address!


Located six miles north of Decorah, 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

How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

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.

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Seed Starting Workshop at Heritage Farm


Local gardeners and seed savers gathered at Heritage Farm last weekend for the annual Seed Starting Workshop. Each participant left with a tray full of starts and a notebook full of planting tips. Here are a few highlights:

  • No pots? No problem: Use egg shells! Poke a hole in the bottom, crack and plant your eggshell starter pot when ready.
  • Add 30-40% compost (i.e. nutrients) to your seed starting soil mix. Mix should be damp (not wet) before planting.
  • Consistent water (amount and time of day) = happy starts!
  • Avoid over-filling trays and losing seeds when watering.
  • Even distribution and compaction of potting soil will help you determine a consistent watering regiment, which is key for healthy starts.
  • Planting seed too deep is one of the major causes of low seed germination.
  • Introduce stresses (e.g. wind and direct sun) gradually and one at a time when hardening off your starts.
  • Optimal germination temp = optimal grow temp + 10 degrees (most plants). Remove heat once your starts are up.
  • Using a grow light? Get it close to the soil for healthier starts.

Check out upcoming events at Heritage Farm