A man and his beans: Burt Berrier

A man and his beans: Burt Berrier

Burt Berrier, of Canon City, CO, collected beans because he enjoyed their stories, their diversity, and because it allowed him to meet people from all over the world.

“One thing about collecting beans, each has a life in it, it’s not dead as collecting clocks, dolls, guns etc…. There is no end to the subject of beans. I was told as a boy I didn’t know beans and I find that now at nearly 85 it’s still the same.”

                                                                          -Burt Berrier (circa 1978)


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Donations to SSE make a difference every day

Donations to SSE make a  difference every day

Do you ever wonder how your investment is used at Seed Savers Exchange?  How your donation or membership has an impact for the greater good?  Meet Lori.

“I grow heirloom tomatoes, and this year, in honor of my 50th birthday, I grew 50 varieties and I got probably a third of them from a Seed Savers Exchange member who had seeds in the Yearbook.  I talk about this place all the time and have become known in the community as someone who grows heirlooms.”

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Adding donations to the SSE Collection: The Gary Staley Collection

Adding donations to the SSE Collection: The Gary Staley Collection

All seed collectors, no matter the size of their collection, should try to gather historical and varietal information about their seeds. SSE's top Collection priorities are heirlooms with a history of being saved and shared within a family or community. Ideal donations are well documented and have a story with a clear chain of ownership and providence.

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Plant a seed. Grow a farmer.

Plant a seed. Grow a farmer.

Seed saving instructor, farm manager, and former SSE employee Jessica Babcock outlines the importance of teaching new farmers the art of seed saving and explains how the Organic Farm School at Greenbank Farm is preparing a new generation of farmers, seed savers, and seed producers.

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Online Seed Exchange

Online Seed Exchange

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is proud to provide a new tool to help seed savers and gardeners keep the diversity of our garden heritage in the hands of many: an online seed exchange.

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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!

Lucina's Miniature Stuffed Peppers

Pickled Mini Bell Peppers

Miniature Bell Peppers

SSE member Lucina Cress once told Diane Ott Whealy, "An elderly lady grew these peppers in Ohio and passed them on to me. The chocolate is still my favorite, always so mild and sweet and all the plants would produce early and kept coming on till frost." Lucina had been making the stuffed peppers for more than a decade. "I think I first listed the pepper seed in the 1981 Seed Savers Exchange [Yearbook]. I always offered to send the recipe for stuffing and canning with the pepper seed. Each year our branch of the hospital auxiliary stuffed miniature peppers for the hospital bazaar. We canned over seven hundred jars some years and we were sold out by 11 a.m."

Lucina's recipe for her Miniature Stuffed Peppers:

Pickled Mini Bell Peppers

Shred cabbage fine (SSE staff recommend the 'Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage'). For each 3 quarts of cabbage, add 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and let stand for 20 minutes.

While the cabbage is soaking, wash enough of Lucina's Miniature Bell peppers of all colors to make 15 pints. Cut a small opening on top and take out the seeds. (I always save the seeds to offer in the Yearbook and hope everyone else does too!)

Squeeze the liquid off cabbage and discard.

Add to cabbage:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 2/3 cup vinegar
  • 2/3 cup sugar

Mix cabbage and stuff inside the peppers. Place in jars. Boil together:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water

Pour over peppers in jars and seal. Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Order seeds for Miniature Chocolate, Miniature Red, and Miniature Yellow Bell Peppers in our online store!

Taken from SSE co-founder Diane Ott Whealy's new book, Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver.

Our mission is to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. www.seedsavers.org

Remembering Tom Knoche

Tom Knoche (OH KN T), 1938-2013

Tom Knoche

Sardinia, OH


By Diane Ott Whealy

Kent and I first met Tom and Sue Knoche in 1981 when they attended the first Seed Savers Exchange campout in Princeton, Missouri. I recall how the first thing Tom said after giving affectionate hugs was, "I drove over 650 miles to get here! I have never met anyone in my life that I could talk to about my collection of seed. I always gardened with my granny and we saved seeds. No one else ever understood or shared my excitement."

Tom once said, "My grandma is going on eighty-nine years old, and she's said all her life that no bean was worth eating unless you had to string it first. A lot of the old folks say that about the string beans."

Tom was known as "the squash collector." When asked about his squash collection in the early 1980s, Tom said, "The squash that I've collected and that I'm the most concerned about are the large-fruited ones. These types are dying out so fast that there is no way they're going to be preserved if somebody doesn't take an interest in them. People want the little tiny handy size. Nobody wants to raise the large family sized types anymore. If I were to take some of my precious squash to our County Fair, there'd be no place for them. They have everything so categorized that if mine isn't a Hubbard or a Butternut or a Bush Scallop, there's no place for them. That's how bad things have gotten. And how on earth are young people ever going to know that there's anything different? I went to the State Fair for several years and tried to acquire seed from some of the growers. But there's so little interest that they don't even bother anymore to put the names of the growers on the specimens at the State Fair."

Tom Knoche


Tom and Sue were early members who truly loved Seed Savers Exchange. We cherish their spirit, enthusiasm and expertise that gave SSE the courage to move forward with our mission over 35 years ago, a time when no one else was noticing. John Swenson, another long time member, once had a wonderful description of those who have joined us over the years. "Of those who have contributed over the years," he said, "they become one of the sparkles on a gem." We will miss Tom's stories, but his spirit and seeds are very much alive in our organization. There is one sparkle on that gem that shines brighter today.

Over three decades ago Kent and I wanted to meet our early members to hear their voices. The last time I saw Tom was at the Seed Savers Exchange 2011 Campout. I am somewhat comforted knowing we recorded his voice and stories to be heard again by the new members of Seed Savers Exchange. Are there stories in your life that need to be recorded?

Tom Knoche speaking at the 2011 SSE Conference (part 1)

[audio: http://blog.seedsavers.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/knochepart1.mp3]

Tom Knoche speaking at the 2011 SSE Conference (part 2)

[audio: http://blog.seedsavers.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/knochepart2.mp3]

"I may not be a very big grower anymore, but I am thankful that I could contribute to the ongoing success of the Seed Savers Exchange."

SSE Collection Pepper 1191: 'Hinkelhatz'

Hinkelhatz in a bowl

Hinkelhatz in a bowl The ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper was first noted as an ingredient for pepper sauces in the 1848 Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, Die Geschickte Hausfrau. Seed Savers Exchange member, William Woys Weaver, translated and republished the book under the title Sauerkraut Yankee in 1983. According to Weaver, the pepper was rarely eaten raw by the Pennsylvania Dutch, instead it was favored for colorful pickles and flavorful sauces.

Weaver inherited the seeds for ‘Hinkelhatz’ as a part of his late grandfather’s seed collection. According to his grandmother, the peppers first arrived in her kitchen around 1935. Because they were too spicy for her, she made them into a sauce for the boys – unknowingly continuing the tradition of making hot sauce with the pepper.

The ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper has been cultivated since at least the 1880s by the Pennsylvania Dutch. These settlers were a unique group of immigrants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who established themselves in Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Pennsylvania Dutch still have strong cultural ties to the original settlements throughout Pennsylvania and adjacent communities, with a rich food heritage that still includes the ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper.

HINKELHATZ CROCK PICKLE - reprinted with permission from William Woys Weaver's book, Sauerkraut Yankee

This traditional Pennsylvania Dutch pickle must have enough Hinkelhatz pepper in it to give it a spicy flavor. Vinegar often modifies the heat of hot peppers, so if in doubt, put whole seeded pods in the pickle and taste it often for the first day or two.  If it seems to be getting too hot, remove the pods. If it is not hot enough, add more.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts (2 liters)

1 large bunch fresh dill, preferably with flower heads (at least 4 to 5 large flower heads) 12 cloves of garlic cut in half lengthwise 1 tablespoon mustard seed 10 fresh bay leaves 4 tablespoons coriander seeds 2 teaspoons black peppercorns 1 tablespoon allspice 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped Hinkelhatz peppers, or whole seeded pods to taste 8 ounces (250g) cauliflower broken into small florets 8 ounces (250g) sliced green tomato 8 ounces (250g) sliced baby cucumbers 8 ounces (250g) carrot, pared and cut diagonally into paper thin slices 8 ounces (250g) sweet peppers seeded and cut into irregular pieces (green or red, preferably red) 1 ½ quarts (1 ½ liters) spring water 2 cups (500ml) white wine vinegar or 1 cup garlic flavored vinegar plus 1 cup coriander flavored vinegar 1/3 cup (90g) pickling salt

Place half the dill in the bottom of a non-reactive crock or large sanitized glass jar.  Combine all the ingredients in a deep work bowl, and when thoroughly mixed, pour into a crock or glass preserve jar. Heat the spring water, vinegar, and salt in a non-reactive preserving pan and bring to a full boil for 3 minutes.  Pour this over the vegetables, place the remaining dill on top and cover.  Once cool, set aside in a refrigerator or cool pantry to marinate 3 weeks before using.  Check the pickle from time to time to adjust the heat of the peppers. Add more ripe peppers if it does not seem hot enough.

Today, the ‘Hinkelhatz’ pepper is available in the Seed Savers catalog, having gained attention for its flavor, compact habit, and prolific production. Slow Food USA features this pepper in its ‘Ark of Taste’ because of its importance as a part of America’s food heritage, and Weaver discusses it in his book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. Help preserve a unique heirloom variety and grow some ‘Hinkelhatz!'

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.