Storing Heirloom Squash Over the Winter

Storing Heirloom Squash Over the Winter

If you have winter squash in your garden that are ready to be harvested, these simple steps can help you store them a bit longer so that you can delay  processing, seed saving, and pie making until later in the winter when you’ve worked your way through your less patient produce.

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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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Seed Savers Exchange Showcase: Container Gardening!

Seed Savers Exchange Showcase: Container Gardening!

Are you an apartment dweller with a green thumb? Or a novice who's daunted by the thought of a full-blown garden? Well, don’t fear because we’re here with a list of lovely varieties that thrive in containers. And we’re here to tell you that you don’t need a yard to be a seed saver.

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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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Seed Saving Collection for First-Timers

In our grandparents' day seed saving was just part of gardening. 

Store-bought seed, like store-bought anything, was a luxury for my Grandma. She could only afford to order what she couldn’t easily save- for instance, the seeds of biennial vegetables like carrot, cabbage, beets and kohlrabi.  The whole community saved their garden seed back then. It was as natural to gardening as planting and harvesting crops.  I helped my Grandfather pluck the seeds off his morning glories each fall and never thought I was doing anything out of the ordinary.  The seed—along with the skills on how to save the seed—was passed down from generation to generation.

Over the years, this seed saving component of the garden has vanished and garden seed has become something you simply purchase each year from your favorite catalog or garden center.  It is understandable, then, why new gardeners would not be aware of how their seeds were produced in the first place, and so the process is often perceived as somewhat mysterious.

Today, planning your garden for seed saving is really not that much different or any more difficult than it was back in the days of my grandparents.  Some of my garden favorites like tomatoes, beans, peas and lettuce are self-pollinating crops that don’t readily cross, so they’re easy to save.  Of course you must have non-hybrid varieties so the seed your harvest and plant will produce the same variety as the parent plant (read more about open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seeds here).

Seed Saving Collection

This past year I was pleased to be involved in creating a new Seed Saving Collection for the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.  This starter kit includes some of our popular varieties that could be grown side by side in one garden, plus step-by-step seed saving instructions for each crop type.  I’m excited to offer a solution for all those gardeners who thought seed saving was somehow difficult. It’s easy to become a seed saver!

Click here to buy this collection-->


Save almost 20% by purchasing these 6 seed packets as the Seed Saving Collection!


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.

Preventing GMO Contamination in Your Open-Pollinated Corn

Preventing GMO Contamination in Your Open-Pollinated Corn

Corn (Zea mays) is what we around here consider a ‘promiscuous pollinator.’ That’s because it is an outcrossing, wind-pollinated crop. Because corn relies on wind to carry pollen from the tassels to the silks, the light pollen grains may travel a few miles before finding and pollinating a silk. Your neighbor’s corn can therefore very easily pollinate yours, making it tricky to save pure seed from your open-pollinated corn.

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Seed Saving School

Always label your seeds

Seed school in the garden

Seed Savers Exchange was proud to present our first-ever multi-day Seed Saving School last weekend to 19 enthusiastic participants from across the country and around the world.

Our most comprehensive workshop available, the Seed Saving School combined early-morning classroom lectures with hours of hands-on activities out in the field. Students had the rare opportunity to experience seed saving from start to finish: garden planning, plant isolation, hand-pollination, seed harvesting, seed cleaning, storage and seed sharing.

Friday morning began with introductions, and though our class was quite diverse (gardeners/entrepreneurs/teachers from the UK, California, Alberta, Iowa, Michigan…), everyone was united in their excitement for heirloom produce, biodiversity, sustainability and self-sufficiency. After a quick orientation to Heritage Farm and the various ways that we protect and promote our garden heritage, students headed to the gardens to begin harvesting heirloom tomatoes and squeezing out their seeds.

tomato seeds

Saturday focused almost entirely on flowers. Collection Curator Jenna Sicuranza taught pollination, reproduction and lifecycles for common garden crops, then the class packed up for a field trip to The Pepperfield Project, where founder David Cavagnaro discussed seed saving on a home scale and overwintering biennials. In the afternoon, back at Heritage Farm, students learned hand-pollination and isolation techniques to keep seeds pure for outbreeding crops like corn, squash, cucumbers and mustards.

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Sunday’s activities related primarily to harvesting and cleaning seeds of various garden plants. We began with an illustration of market maturity vs. seed maturity, then proceeded to harvest beans, peppers, eggplant, squash and cucumbers with the intent to process them later in the day. After everyone built their own screens for seed cleaning, we spent the afternoon splitting squash, macerating peppers and eggplant, threshing and winnowing beans, and rinsing the tomato seeds we’d squeezed and left to ferment at the beginning of the course.

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By the end of the weekend, each student had a small collection of vegetable, flower and herb seeds to take home for planting next year. As we said ‘farewell’, I encouraged students to share their new seeds and new skills with friends and neighbors, or with fellow gardener/seed savers through our Seed Exchange.

These knowledgeable and enthusiastic participants give us an overwhelming sense of optimism about the future of our garden heritage. Folks like these—who continue to seek out experiences that allow them to preserve rare heirloom and open-pollinated varieties in their own backyards and pursue opportunities to connect with other seed savers—are vital to our mission.

Congratulations to all of our Seed Saving School graduates! Because of your success, we look forward to making our Seed Saving School a permanent fixture in the educational offerings at Heritage Farm.

For other gardeners interested in attending next year’s Seed Saving School, look for more details early in 2014.

Located in Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Apple Upside Down Gingerbread

Heirloom Apples

Heirloom Apples

There’s a chill in the air, and it’s time to fill your kitchen with the warm smells of sweet and savory dishes.

This Apple Upside Down Gingerbread recipe appeared in the 1999 Seed Savers Exchange calendar, and was created by world-class chef Richard Palm. The ingredients and method follows. Enjoy!

4 Tbsp. melted butter ¾ cup brown sugar 3 tart baking apples, peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or spray the bottom and sides of an 11 x 7 x 2” metal pan. Pour the melted butter into the pan and sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over it. Arrange the thinly sliced apples over the butter and brown sugar.

Mix the following batter and pour it over the apples:

2¼ cups sifted, unbleached all-purpose flower ½ tsp. baking soda ½ tsp. salt 2 tsp. ground ginger 1 tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. ground cloves ½ tsp. ground nutmeg ½ tsp. ground allspice 1 tsp. Dutch processed cocoa ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/melted and cooled to room temperature ¾ cup molasses ¾ cup granulated sugar ½ cup buttermilk ½ cup milk 1 large egg

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, spices and cocoa in a bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, molasses, sugar, buttermilk, milk, and egg. Add the dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth and thick (about a minute), scraping down often.  Pour the mixture over the top of the apple slices in the prepared pan. Bake on the middle oven rack for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes.


Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization, 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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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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Chewin' on Seeds (Assessing Seed Maturity)



Now that fall has arrived, folks are often curious about when to harvest seeds that they’re saving from their garden. Although seed maturity can often be evaluated by simply touching or viewing the fruit or vegetable, SSE’s Farm Manager Bryan Stuart has a more unique approach for some seeds - he chews on them.

While harvesting eggplant for seeds from one of the many Heritage Farm gardens last week, Bryan would frequently pull an eggplant fruit from the plant, tear it open, and pop a handful of the seeds into his mouth. As he chewed on them, he took note of their hardness and listened for any audible ‘crunch’ to indicate that the seeds were mature and the fruits were ready to harvest for seed.

While it isn’t necessary to chew on all of your seeds to assess their maturity, Bryan’s technique demonstrates a certain quality of mature seeds - they are often very hard. Below are a few notes regarding seed maturity for several common, annual plant types:

Beans & Peas: Pods should be brown, dry and brittle before harvest, and the seeds inside should be hard as rocks. If it is a particularly wet fall or you’re expecting an early frost, you may pull up entire plants and move them to a garage or basement to finish maturing and drying.

Corn: Husks should be brown, dry and brittle, the silks should be dark and dry, and the kernels should be extremely hard.


Cucumbers: Fruits must be left on the vine until they begin to turn yellow and their skin becomes tough. Seeds inside should be plump and firm.

Eggplant: Fruits should be left on the plant until they begin to turn yellow and their skin becomes tough. Seeds inside should be plump and hard (or crunchy if you’re chewing on them).

Lettuce: Two to three weeks after the lettuce flowers have opened, the seeds should be mature. Look for feathery parachute-like structures (think dandelions) before harvesting.

Melons and Watermelons: Harvest fruits as you would for eating and simply reserve some of the seeds or leave the fruits on the vine until they soften slightly (this may improve seed quality, but you won’t want to eat the melons at this point). Seeds inside should be plump and firm.

Okra: Pods should be brown and dry, and they will begin to split open when seeds are ready for harvest. The seeds should be very hard.

Okra pod, splitting

Peppers: Seeds are ready when the pepper fruit has matured to its final color.

Radishes: Pods should be brown, dry and brittle before harvest, and the seeds inside should be extremely hard.

Squash: Fruits should be left to mature on the vine until the skin has become extremely hard. Harvest fruits before first frost and store up to two months in cool conditions (50-60 degrees) to allow the seeds to mature further. Seeds should be plump and firm.

Tomatoes: Seeds are ready when the tomato is ready to be eaten.

Remember to allow your seeds to dry completely before storage, because any moisture in and around the seeds will cause problems with germination. Then when you are ready to store your seeds, check out this blog for some seed storage tips!

Find more seed saving resources here.


Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.