Sneak Peek: 2017 Evaluation Program

Part of our work at Seed Savers Exchange includes documenting and evaluating varieties from our collection so that we can learn more about the collection. In 2016 we grew 730 varieties from 41 crop types for evaluation. Some of our highlights from 2016 include:

  • Photographing the collection of 300 garlic varieties

  • Evaluating 27 beans donated to Seed Savers Exchange by folk hero, John Withee

  • Evaluating 17 tomatoes purportedly bred by potential A.W. Livingston

  • Evaluating 57 collard varieties obtained from the USDA as part of an ethnography about collard seed saving in the South

  • Comparing 12 leek varieties thought to be synonyms of the same variety

Get the full 2016 Evaluation report.

And then in winter, we hibernate!

Just kidding. Winter is just as busy as the growing season in many ways. It is the season of planning, reflection, and crunching data. We take needed time to review all the data we have collected. We prepare for the next year by scheduling varieties. And we begin background research on the varieties we will be evaluating in the following year.

Here's a look at a few of our 2017 projects:

North Dakota Tomatoes

North Dakota State University has a long history of vegetable breeding. In the early 1900s several horticulturists, including H.O. Werner and A.F. Yeager, began a breeding program to select tomatoes that would thrive in North Dakota’s short season. Between 1925 and 1952, they released 16 tomato varieties, and two more thereafter. Seed Savers Exchange brought in 17 varieties directly from North Dakota State University, and we are evaluating 16 varieties in 2017. The varieties are ‘Allred’, ‘Bison’, ‘Bounty’, ‘Cavalier’, ‘Dakota Gold’, ‘Doublerich’, ‘Early Jumbo’, ‘Fargo’, ‘Farthest North’, ‘Golden Bison’, ‘North Dakota Earliana’, ‘Pink Heart’, ‘Red River’, ‘Redskin’, ‘Sheyenne’, and ‘Victor’.

We Got the (Heirloom) Beet

We have many family heirloom varieties in the collection, but coming across a family heirloom beet is unusual. Beets are biennials and only flower in their second year of growth. In warmer climates you can over-winter beets directly in the ground. In areas with colder winters, you must dig the roots, store them in a cool, dry place, and plant them outside the next spring. Beet 241 ‘Tressa’s Premium’ is a family heirloom beet donated by Ardis Reavis who received it from her neighbor Tressa Estella Metzger. We are excited to grow this variety and try the recipe for "Company Special Beets" that Ardis Reavis included when she donated the beet:


Company Special Beets

1/3 cup brown sugar 1/2-1 cup pineapple
2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vinegar (or more to taste) 2-3 cups cooked beets
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup water or the liquid you cooked the beets in
1/2 cup raisins

Combine the sugar, starch and salt in a saucepan. Slowly stir in the water or beet liquid and vinegar. Add the raisins, pineapple, and butter, and cook until thickened. Add the beets and cook on low until warmed through.

Lettuce 50 ‘Great Lakes 407’, grown out in the 2015 Evaluation program and was a staff favorite.

Lettuce 50 ‘Great Lakes 407’, grown out in the 2015 Evaluation program and was a staff favorite.

Not Your Store Bought Iceberg

The typical iceberg lettuce found at the grocery store is watery and flavorless and generally not a fan favorite. However, iceberg lettuce is just one variety of crisphead lettuce. Some of the best tasting crisphead lettuces are the ‘Great Lakes’ varieties first developed in the 1930s by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and the USDA. They are crisp, juicy, and their flavor is outstanding, a far cry from their grocery store cousins. In 2015 we grew lettuce 50 ‘Great Lakes 407’ and it was a staff favorite. We are growing six varieties of Great Lakes lettuces for evaluation and to compare to each other in 2017.  They are lettuce 220 ‘Great Lakes 118-A’, lettuce 67 ‘Great Lakes 659-G’, lettuce 895 ‘Great Lakes’,  lettuce 896 ‘Great Lakes 659’, and  lettuce 986 ‘Great Lakes 6238’.



Finding Mr. Moon

From the 1924 Peter Henderson & Co. seed catalog.

From the 1924 Peter Henderson & Co. seed catalog.

The original moon and stars watermelon was released as Sun, Moon, and Stars in 1924 by the Peter Henderson Seed Company. This variety soon dropped out of the seed trade, but a version of the moon and stars watermelon was resurrected in 1981 when Merle Van Doren reported to Seed Savers Exchange he was growing a moon and stars variety.  Seed Savers now has almost 20 different versions of moon and stars watermelon in the collection. We are growing three of these in 2017 to match to the original Henderson description from 1924: watermelon 380 ‘Grigg’s Moon and Stars’ was donated to Seed Savers Exchange in 2015 by Don Poole; watermelon 1 ‘Moon and Stars’, often referred to as Moon and Stars (Van Doren); and watermelon 26 ‘Moon and Stars, Cherokee.’


Pepper 1223, ‘Bull Nose’ - one of the varieties being assessed in the 2017 Evaluation program.

Pepper 1223, ‘Bull Nose’ - one of the varieties being assessed in the 2017 Evaluation program.

The Bull Peppers

The ‘Bull Nose’ peppers have been around for centuries. Thomas Jefferson grew the ‘Bull Nose’ at Monticello. The ‘Bull Nose’ pepper appeared in the 1863 book The Field and Garden Vegetables of America by Fearing Burr. By 1901 over 100 companies offered some version of the ‘Bull Nose’ pepper with many synonyms such as ‘Large Bell’, ‘Large Squash’, ‘Sweet Mountain’, ‘Spanish Monstrous’, ‘Mammoth Bell’, or just ‘Bell’. We are growing several ‘Bull Nose’ peppers from our collection this year in order to determine which is the best match to the original Fearing Burr ‘Bull Nose’ variety. These are Pepper 1223 ‘Bull Nose’, Pepper 1978 ‘Bull Nose (Sweet Mountain 1759)’, and Pepper 528 ‘Bull Nose Large Bell’.

We are looking forward to growing a wide diversity from our collection again this year. We hope to continue making progress evaluating the authenticity of our varieties and documenting their unique characteristics to pass this information along to you.