In Defense of Seed Libraries

In Defense of Seed Libraries

Recently, state governments in Pennsylvania and Maryland have intervened to prevent the free distribution of home-saved vegetable seeds through public seed libraries in their states, citing legislation meant to regulate the commercial sale of seeds.

At Seed Savers Exchange, we feel that these actions are misguided and overzealous.

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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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Healthy Seeds are Happy Seeds

Healthy Seeds are Happy Seeds

Part of the responsibility that comes with maintaining a seed collection containing over 20,000 rare garden varieties includes testing for and eradicating viruses and diseases. This week the staff in our Preservation Department were busy performing ELISA tests (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay tests) to identify any squash specimens infected with the squash mosaic virus (SMV). Roughly 1,000 seedlings were tested from 28 varieties.

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Seed Storage at Home

Seed Storage at Home

It’s 10:00 PM. Do you know where your children are? Some of you may be too young to remember this public service announcement from evening television programing during the 60s and 70s. For some reason, I was reminded of it when I sat down to write a blog post about seed storage. Does your seed storage system help you fulfill your goals for your seed? Does it manifest intention more than neglect? When spring time comes, do you know where your seeds are?

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Exploring the Diversity Garden

Exploring the Diversity Garden

The onset of spring has us dreaming about the vegetables that will fill our gardens during the summertime. But it is difficult to imagine summer’s bounty when your pepper plants are two inches tall and your onion stems are so thin you can barely see them. So why don’t we take a walk around a summer garden?

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Two Seasons

Two Seasons

In the fast-paced world of the Preservation department, the year is divided into two seasons: field season and getting-ready-for-field season. After a long, cold, snowy winter, we just crossed the threshold back into field season with the sowing of the first lettuce seeds, which are already eagerly emerging and putting on their first true leaves.

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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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How to Get Ahead

How to Get Ahead

Some people mistakenly believe that farmers have a “down season.” Without the twelve hour days harvesting and weeding, a winter spent reviewing crop spreadsheets and lounging by a wood stove might feel like vacation. Winter: that mythical space between the last harvest and first plantings, where all wrinkles get ironed out and new vortexes of time are uncovered. Day trips? Sleeping in? Hanging out with friends? Everything seems possible now, within this precious window. Winter slows everyone's roll, it’s true, but farmers are often working throughout the seemingly dormant season.

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Printing the Yearbook

2014 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook

The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) Yearbook has been sent to the printer! If you’re a long-time member, the arrival of the Yearbook may be the most anticipated garden-planning event of the year. If you’re new to SSE, however, the term ‘Yearbook’ can be a bit perplexing, and may conjure up memories of unfortunate portraits and embarrassing club associations.

2014 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook

The annual Yearbook is one way of accessing the Seed Savers Exchange, a network of gardeners, farmers, plant breeders and chefs who contribute to the most diverse seed exchange on the planet. Heritage Farm (where our staff maintains a permanent seed collection, sells seeds commercially, hosts events and publishes the seed exchange) is one part of this network.

Each year, hundreds of SSE members put together a list of fruit, vegetable, grain, flower and herb seeds they have harvested and would like to share with others. These seeds are organized in a database that is available online (exchange.seedsavers.org) and printed out annually as our Yearbook.

Entering thousands of open-pollinated plants into a publicly accessible database each year requires hundreds of hours of staff time. From September to January, SSE staff is busy pouring through lists of tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, potatoes, watermelons, rutabagas, apples, peaches, kiwis, sunflowers, hops, hollyhocks and zinnias (and at least 200 other plant types). When these lists are entered, we have about a week to proof 500 pages of nearly 20,000 offerings.

Since 1975, the Seed Savers Exchange has been connecting our members to one another through the annual Yearbook. All SSE members can participate in the seed exchange by requesting seeds (there are 13,000+ different varieties to choose from), offering seeds, or both.

It is never too late to offer seeds; although the 2014 Yearbook is already being printed and shipped, the Online Seed Exchange is always open to new members and new seeds.

The Seed Savers Exchange is one of the most resilient tools for preserving rare garden varieties. As a member, you have the opportunity to contribute to the seed exchange by growing your favorite fruits and vegetables, saving seeds, and sharing those seeds with others.

To browse the exchange online, learn how to save your own seeds, request rare varieties, or to offer seeds yourself, visit exchange.seedsavers.org. Membership is required to log in, but educational resources are open to everyone. If you’d like to be a part of the exchange and receive the-500 page Yearbook, join SSE today.

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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.

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One Rooster Step at a Time

Sicilian Buttercup Chicken

Sicilian Buttercup Chicken The first sentence in my book, Gathering, reads “I grew up knowing that you harvest horseradish only in the months with an “r” in them and that every day gets a “rooster step” longer after the shortest day of the year.”

I understood the horseradish part, but for the longest time I was never quite sure of my Grandma Einck’s observation.  The stride of a rooster—especially our bantams—isn’t much to speak of; it’s more like a baby step. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand her wisdom.  The shortest day of the year is December 21 (when the sun set this year at about 4:30 pm), but by the end of January it might stay light until 5:15 p.m.  And of course, by the first day of summer, the days seem longer by a thousand rooster steps. One rooster step isn’t much, but a couple hundred rooster steps is the difference between a cold long winter’s night and a glorious summer evening. You can get a lot done with a few more rooster steps.

Grandma Einck’s insight has come to mind many times in my adult life.  When folks ask, “How did Seed Savers Exchange get started?” and “How did we get to where we are today?” I tell them that it certainly didn’t happen all at once, but it did happen with the certainty of a rooster’s step.

1980 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook

I am especially reminded of this when I see the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook being compiled around this time of year. Our first six-page seed listing in 1979 was so small we printed our 29 members’ seed listings along with their letters in their entirety. The next year our group had grown to 142 and we printed the seventeen-page booklet on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine set up in an unheated back bedroom of our farmhouse.  Today our members list more than 12,000 varieties in a 500 page book and we send it to more than 13,000 members.  We also organize the listings for easy online access at exchange.seedsavers.org. Amazing to think of the growth in all areas of Seed Savers Exchange that has transpired with 40 years of roosters steps.

Solutions to problems like genetic diversity don’t have to all be complicated or large; they can be as bold or as small as you like. Just one simple act can make a difference.  Plant a seed, save a seed, support your local farmers market, CSA or community gardens, and simply ask your grocer or restaurant about where your food comes from. These small acts, added together, will make a difference. Small is underestimated, small is a beginning; small can make an important contribution to your planet and family, even something as small as a rooster’s step.

Diane Ott Whealy is Co-Founder and Vice President of Seed Savers Exchange, the nation's leading non-profit seed saving organization. She wrote Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver to chronicle the organization's humble beginnings and growth into a respected leader in the grassroots movement to preserve our agricultural heritage.

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Join Seed Savers Exchange and gain access to the world's largest seed exchange.

Our non-profit mission is 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.