The modern movement to save seeds and preserve plant diversity started here with Seed Savers Exchange. Founded in Missouri in 19975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy with just two seed, they introduced gardeners, farmers and the general public to the practice of saveing heirloom seeds.
Two seeds can go big things. ”Diane’s grandfather, Baptist John Ott, entrusted to them the seeds of two heirloom open-pollinated varieties, Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory and German Pink Tomato. These seeds—brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents from Bavaria (Germany) when they immigrated to Iowa in 1884” and the rest is history. They have not grown all the seed themselves but have fostered a network of gardeners and farmers now called The Exchange who offer heirloom varieties that they are stewarding. It is mind-boggling how many people are keeping heirloom seed traditions alive. The Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook has been an amazing resource for decades.
“Today SSE houses the nation’s largest nongovernmental seed bank of its kind (some 20,000 varieties) at Heritage Farm, 890 scenic acres in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Here we not only safeguard these varieties for generations to come but also encourage gardeners and farmers worldwide to grow, harvest, and share heirloom seeds as well as recount the inspirational stories behind them. We also educate gardeners on gardening and the time-honored and critical practice of seed saving.” Each year they grow out select varieties to keep their stocks fresh and back up their collection in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Heritage Farm is a real, working farm that you can visit in Decorah. You’ll find the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center which also houses a Gift and Garden Store. Explore the hiking trails, display gardens and historic orchard. During the growing season they offer classes and events. Find out more about visiting Heritage Farm here https://seedsavers.org/about/visit/
The original two. Why not grow the two seeds that started it all?
Tomato – German Pink, 85-90 days from transplant. Since this is the first seed that the Whealy’s started with it is worthy of consideration. This is a potato leaf beefsteak type tomato that produces very large – 1 to 2 pound – fruit. This may not be the best choice for our cool short season climate but if you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, this is one to try.
Morning Glory – Grandpa Otts. The other original seed that started our modern seed saving movement, this is a true morning glory, not our invasive bindweed. We have grown these over the years and have found them beautiful but certainly not aggressive, like their invasive name’s sake. They are stunning on a trellis and will climb 15’ or more. The purple and magenta flowers are breathtaking, when the sun is just right, they glow!
Here's a bell pepper that does well in Maritime Northwest gardens.
Sweet Pepper – King of the North, 70 days from transplant. If you want to grow a bell pepper that will ripen on the vine in our short season Maritime Northwest summers, then King of the North is a good choice. Sturdy plants are resistant to late blight and produce full sized bell peppers. Support pepper plant with a tomato cage or sturdy stakes.
I love growing and eating ground cherries – all new-to-me varieties go directly on my wish list. Seed Savers Exchange offers two that I want to try.
Ground Cherry – Drott’s Yellow, 55 days from transplant. This heirloom came from “Exchange lister Thomas Jerde who acquired this variety in 1986 when he bought a home in Minneapolis from the Albert Drotts family and discovered the ground cherry growing in the garden.” The fruit is exceptionally sweet and produces earlier than most ground cherries.
Ground Cherry – Loewen Family Heirloom, 80 days from transplant. As part of The Exchange, this variety has been “passed down through at least four generation of women.” It came from Russia via Canada in 1925. Produces smaller yet sweeter fruit than the popular Aunt Molly’s ground cherry.
morning glory blossom
farm tools photo credit: Lisa Taylor
All images unless otherwise noted are from https://seedsavers.org/ or royalty-free sources and are used for educational purposes only.
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Seed Company Spotlight Snake River Seed Cooperative
I found Snake River Seed Cooperative when I was doing edible gardening talks in libraries in North Idaho. I am always interested in matching gardeners with seed growers in their region. I was delighted to find a Snake River Seed Cooperative seed packet display in Coeur d’ Alene, ID at the wonderful natural food store, Pilgrim’s Market https://www.pilgrimsmarket.com.
Snake River Seed Cooperative is “a collective of family farmers in the Intermountain West who work together to produce a wide diversity of regionally-adapted seeds.” If knowing where and how your seed is produced is important to you, then this is the place for you. The Cooperative works with “about 50 small-scale, family farms to steward over 350 varieties of seeds. With each generation of planting, selecting, and saving, our seeds are becoming more adapted to our unique place on earth.” Snake River Seed Co-op wants you to know where your seed comes from, so each seed in their catalog lists the farm where it was grown. Meet the seed growers here https://snakeriverseeds.com/pages/meet-the-co-op-growers
“Planting environments in the Intermountain West vary greatly including Arid High Desert, Urban, and High Mountain regions.” The Intermountain West includes Eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. To assist gardeners succeed in these challenging conditions, Snake River Seed Co-op has worked with their members to create planting guides for this varied, rugged and extreme growing region. These free planting guides cover Zones 3b-7a and are regionally specific. There’s one for Moscow Idaho and for the five valleys region of Western Montana, more guides are in the works. Take a look here. https://snakeriverseeds.com/pages/planting-guides
Because the farmers in Snake River Seed Co-op are in the Intermountain West which is characterized by short seasons, cold weather and extreme exposure, this is a great source for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans and winter squash.
The descriptions are wonderfully quirky and funny yet still give you an idea of what you’re getting and what each variety brings to the table and garden. Here are some summer crops which grabbed my attention. I will include the description of Snow White cherry tomato – you’ll have to visit their website for more fun reading.
Tomato – Snow White Cherry, 75 days. “Who needs Prince Charming when you have this delicious cherry?! The dwarves can take the day off and the prince can go knock on some other sucker's door--Snow White's got it growin' on all by herself with this scrumptious cherry that ripens from creamy white to pale yellow. Indeterminate and proud of it, she cranks out oodles of yummy, crack-resistant fruits. Open-pollinated. Seeds grown by Affinity Farm in Moscow, Idaho.”
Tomato – Cream Sausage, 80 days. The name got me, the description won me over. This is a light yellow 3”-4” oblong tomato that grow on determinate plants. They are great dried or used fresh in salsas or salads. Grown byEarthly Delights Farm in Boise, Idaho.
Bush Beans – Magic Mix, 55 days. Grown by Fellowship Farms in Paul, Idaho, they come with a warning that this delicious and productive bush bean mix might lead to “wild adventures.” Enjoy a season of “rambunctious abundance” with this mix of their best green, purple and yellow bush beans.
Collards – Sexy Mama, 60 days. I am a fool for collard greens. They are so hardy and delicious, I grow them most seasons. This one is a hardy cross between collards and kale that has bumpy leaves with frilly edges. I loved this one enough to save my own seeds. Grown byEarthly Delights Farm in Boise, Idaho.
Garden Planner Get organized with The Great Garden Planner! This Garden Planner is just what you need to create order from the chaos of paper floating about the house and garden work station! It comes in both a digital version and a printable one. Check it out HERE: https://www.gardenwithlisa.com/store/c15/garden-planner