Pollination and Preservation

When asked how I spent the majority of my summer, many people are surprised to hear that I completed an eight week internship at SSE where I was the Pollination and Preservation intern.

Katie, left, works with Amy to release pollinators in an isolation tent that prevents varieties from crossing pollen.

My experiences were varied; not only did I spend countless hours in front of a computer writing, editing, and designing educational materials, I also worked alongside the dedicated and eager Preservation staff gaining first-hand experience in the preservation of heritage crop varieties.

Though there is immense validation that comes from knowing that I assisted with the pollination and preservation of so many heirloom varieties of garden and food crops this summer, I am also incredibly humbled to know that my work will help many more gardeners and seed savers continue to fulfill SSE’s mission of conserving agricultural biodiversity.

Though I grew up in rural Iowa and can remember always having a small home garden and an interest in sustainable living, my areas of study at Luther College, where I will soon be starting my senior year, have been concentrated in art history, museum studies, and education, making me a somewhat unlikely candidate for such a position.

So how did I end up at Heritage Farm?

Mason bee cacoons

Admittedly, my knowledge of pollination and plant conservation prior to my first day was limited to what I remembered from my high school biology.  But what drew me to SSE was not so much the biological side of growing and saving heirloom seeds, but the historical and educational aspects of saving and sharing the stories that accompanied those seeds.

However, as my internship progressed, I spent more time working with the Preservation staff in the fields, hand pollinating corn and squash varieties, and in the lab incubating bees and flies to be released into the pollinator exclusion cages. Beyond enjoying the literal fruits of my labor during this time, I also began to understand just how rewarding it is to take an active role in the conservation and preservation of heirloom varieties of seeds, knowing that what you are doing is ensuring that these unique varieties will be around for future gardeners to grow and enjoy.

Pollinators, like these mason bees, are kept dormant while being shipped and emerge slowly from their containers.

In addition to incubating and releasing tens of thousands of bees and flies, and hand-pollinating hundreds of ears of corn (over 400!) and squash flowers, the overall objective of my internship was to use these experiences to write and design four educational resources.

Two of the resources are step-by-step guides on the hand-pollination of corn and squash varieties; another describes the process of rearing and releasing insects at home for use inside pollinator exclusion cages; and the fourth is titled, “Native Pollinators in the Midwest Seed Savers Garden,” and provides in-depth information on the conservation and promotion of pollinators that are native to this region of the country.

The Hand-Pollination of Corn

The Hand-Pollination of Squash

Rearing Insects for Pollination

Native Pollinators in the Midwestern Seed Saving Garden

Without many of these pollinators, the task of maintaining the varieties in Seed Savers Exchange's Collection would be nearly impossible.

I would like to extend a special thanks to all of the wonderful and welcoming staff at Heritage Farm, who made my time as the P & P intern so enjoyable and rewarding, as well as to Silos and Smokestacks for the funding necessary to make these resources and this experience possible.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.