Stories from the Vault

Part of preserving seeds is documenting and preserving the unique genetic map contained within each variety. But along with these seeds come a history.  Both important, both worthy of documentation.

These seeds are five of over 20,000 varieties housed in our vault, which is critical to our mission. (You can read more about the vault and its current state of disrepair here). We are continually amazed by the facts and stories to be uncovered within these seeds. 

‘Stubs’ Mammoth Scipios’ Beans

This family heirloom pole bean was donated in 1981 by the late John Withee of Lynnfield, MA. John Withee acquired it in the mid-1970s from Edwin “Stub” Coffey (1918-2007) of Salem, Connecticut. Mr. Coffey served in WWII (infantry), during which time he met his wife, Magel, a nurse at the hospital where he was recovering. In 1945, they moved to Edwin’s family’s home in Connecticut. This bean variety was passed down to Edwin from his father and Edwin grew and saved them every year in the same garden that his father raised the beans in before him. The family used these as a shelling bean and in Edwin's favorite recipe for succotash. Edwin and Magel are deceased and their family no longer grows it, but Seed Savers Exchange plans to provide a sample back to Edwin and Magel’s daughters.

 Halbert Honey Watermelon

Halbert Honey Watermelon

‘Halbert Honey’ 

Seed Savers Exchange acquired this historic watermelon variety from the USDA collection in 2012.

It was developed by Mr. H.A. Halbert of Texas and introduced in 1902 by the W. Atlee Burpee seed company. During the early 20th century, many seed houses promoted it as one of the best varieties for the small home garden. Thirty years later in 1932, the Steckler Seed Co. of New Orleans, Louisiana still called it "one of the best tasting melons on the market, a favorite."  

 Willis Collard Greens

Willis Collard Greens

Out of the first six editions of the Garden Seed Inventory, this variety is documented only in the first edition (1984), indicating it was not commercially available from the late 1980s through the mid 2000s - which means there was a decline in availability in the U.S. seed trade toward the end of the 20th century.

‘Halbert Honey’ is featured in the 2016 catalog. We believe it is currently available from just two other sources: Sand Hill Preservation Center (operated by Seed Savers Exchange member Glenn Drowns) and USDA. 

'Willis Collard Greens'

Naomi Willis donated this variety of collards to Seed Savers Exchange in 1987 by Naomi Willis of North Carolina.The variety was grown by Naomi's mother and grandmother as early as the 1920s. Naomi wrote how she disliked her childhood chore of collecting pests from the collard leaves and placing them a milk can of kerosene and water.

'Aunt Mae's Bibb' 

This variety of butterhead lettuce was donated in 1995 by member Kelly Yeaton of Pennsylvania. Kelly received it in about 1994 from Mr. Nestor Keene, a barber in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania who kept packets of seeds on the shop counter and offered them to patrons. Nestor and his wife, Amber Keene, first began growing the variety in 1937 when Nestor's aunt Mae Smith of Millheim, Pennsylvania gave it to them. Mae is said to have originally received the seeds from a family named Zimmerman who had grown the lettuce for several decades in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania.

'Granddaddy's' Okra

James Gawenis of Utah donated this okra variety in 2013. James rescued seed pods of this variety from his grandfather’s garden in 2012 following his grandfather’s death. His grandfather, John H. MacDonald (one of the founders of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), grew the variety in Whitney, Texas after receiving it in 1978. The variety came to John from Rex Eubanks (deceased), also of Whitney, and Rex stated that the okra had been stewarded by the Eubanks family for over four generations.


It’s stories like these that make our vault all the more critical. And you can have a part. Make a donation to our Annual Fund today and support the work of stewarding heirloom seeds. Every donation makes a difference!