A Visit to ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’

After work on Friday, September 26th, 2014 I drove 6.5 hours to Decorah, Iowa so that I could attend the ‘Seed Savers Exchange’ Fall Harvest School.  It was a long drive, but very well worth it.  The one-day workshop promised lessons on seed saving, fall gardening, canning, and fermentation.

Seed Savers' Heritage Farm
Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

         A Beautiful Drive

Lilliam Goodman Visitors' Center
Lilliam Goodman Visitors’ Center

Unfortunately darkness had descended so I was unable to fully appreciate the scenery of my drive, nor did I get to enjoy the transition from the flat plains of southeast Nebraska to the glorious rolling hills and gentle mountains that awaited near Minnesota.

Starfire Signet Marigolds
Beautiful Orange Blossoms
Beautiful Orange Blossoms
Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm
Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Heaven on Earth

‘Heritage Farm’ is beyond beautiful and is the headquarters of ‘Seed Savers Exchange’. Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, the farm sits on 890 acres and boasts itself (according to the website) a “living museum of historic varieties”.  Thousands of heirlooms are grown organically on-site in the Preservation Gardens along with a Historic Orchard home to many near-extinct apple and grape varieties.  The farm is one of only two locations in North America where Ancient White Park Cattle may be seen.  Surrounded by stately cliffs and enormous pines, the rustic red barn and accompanying gardens looks a lot like paradise.

A Full Day of Lessons  

The Fall Workshop started bright and early with visitors from all over crowded in and around the ‘Lillian Goldman Visitors Center’.  Attendees were divided into smaller groups and the day’s schedule was broken down accordingly.

The first class I attended was on fermentation, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about.  The lecturing nutritionist shared recipes for homemade coleslaw, fermented beet juice, and many tips and tricks.

The second class was on seed saving.  Attendees were taken to the nearby teaching gardens, where we were instructed on how to harvest, save, and store seeds from beans, peas, melon, squash, and tomatoes.  We were given free-reign of the teaching gardens and allowed to harvest some seeds at-will.  Despite the gardening season obviously winding down and winter soon approaching, the teaching gardens were still gorgeous and I was exposed to so many new varieties of both flower and vegetable that I had never seen nor heard of before.  I went home with a few Radish and Dill seeds, some yellow Drumstick, Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy, and gorgeous burgundy Amaranth seeds, which can be enjoyed as both a cereal grain and as a garden ornamental.

Following lunch were classes on canning/food preservation and preparing the fall garden for the following spring.  Visitors saw demonstrations of proper bed clean-up and division of perennials, and discussed the use of nutrient-enriching cover crops.

Seed Shopping!!!  

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate
Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

Following the classes, this blogger lingered to talk with fellow attendees and like-minded gardeners, and patronized the ‘Visitors Center’ where all 2014 seed packets were on sale.  I somewhat maintained restraint and stuck to my shopping list, but did allow for several added varieties (They were on sale!) that I had fallen in love with on-site, which were displayed in the gardens.  I could not leave without having purchased seeds for the brilliant, tall ‘Purple Verbena’ that I had seen covered by masses of butterflies, nor could I leave without the ‘Black-Eyed Susan Vine’ and the prolific ‘Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden Gate’, which will add an abundance of charm and cheery pink color to my front flower garden this coming season.

This blogger urges anyone able to visit the ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’ to do so.  I left awed by the majestic beauty, inspired by the bountiful gardens, and determined to practice the art of seed saving as I was taught on that day.

Glorious Trees at Seed Savers

 

Please visit http://www.seedsavers.org/About-Us/Heritage-Farm/ to learn more!

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: National Pi Day!

Today, on National Pi Day (The day honoring a number which seems to go on forever) let us enjoy the infinite and timeless beauty found at Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa.

Pi has been been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point… a number so large that most cannot conceive its enormity.

Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

Seed Savers and other like-minded organizations work diligently to promote and preserve heirloom seeds and to prevent the inconceivable loss of centuries of plant genetics and gardening heritage.

Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories in full glory
Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories
The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!
The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!
Dramatic yellow blooms of the Black-Eyed Susan Vine
Morning Glories growing against the Barn

Seed Swapping and the Social Media

A just-opened "Round Robin" seed box that traveled from State-to-State.
A just-opened “Round Robin” seed box that traveled from State-to-State.

Seed sharing has evolved…

Sharing and trading seeds has gone from neighbor-to-neighbor and from family member-to-family member to stranger-to-stranger. No longer just passing seeds over a white picket fence or bringing them with you to the next community soup supper. With the advent of the internet and the rise of social media, the way we share and trade seeds has evolved dramatically these last few years.

Google “Seed Swap” and countless entries appear in seconds. From the ‘National Gardening Association’ Seed Swap website to the ‘Old Farmer’s Almanac’, hundreds of promises of seed trading and sharing beckon. Facebook itself is home to many seed trading sites.

Find it on Facebook!

The ‘Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers’ is one such nonprofit seed sharing site and is currently home to 132 members, chosen and invited to join the exclusive community of fellow gardeners and proven-worthy, reputable traders with solid trade history. The site is perhaps the “best of the best” and promotes the safest, most-welcome location for its’ members to meet online, swap stories, share seeds and so much more… Members who have joined the site looking to score a hard-sought, rare seed variety often end up not only with the longed-for seeds, but having created lasting friendships.

 

The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled a from participant-to-particpant.
The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled
from participant-to-particpant.

Gail Leonard started the group in mid 2014 for people living in Central Ohio, as Gail had noticed that there were no groups in her local area. Gail met Ashley Hafer on another site while trading Wisteria for Oleander. Ashley joined the group, the name changed, and the site grew larger as the group expanded to include traders that either Gail or Ashley had experienced excellent seed trades with in the past. Ashley noted that “(We) just wanted to share and trade with honest people!…” and that “Facebook is great because people are already using it; it’s free, it’s accessible from smartphones… and the benefits are numerous.  Not only are we swapping and sharing seeds to grow food and beautify our yards, but we are making amazing friendships!”

 

Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.
Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.

Ashley adds that since the group keeps their numbers small “it really has become a community. (We) celebrate birthdays, holidays, send get-well cards, thinking-of-you presents…” The group allows for individual trades, member-hosted contests and prize giveaways, “Round Robin” seed boxes, etc.

The ‘Great American Seed Swap/Trade Project’ is another Facebook seed trading site that has (at last count) 14,894 members and 8 administrators. All are welcome to join the group and it is a wonderful place to get started in the seed trade community. A beginner can join with no seeds to share and the generosity of fellow seed lovers will soon amount to many varieties of seed all for the price of a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.)

For just a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)…

If desiring to share excess seeds, it is advisable to request any interested parties to send a SASE (two stamps is the norm as any seed envelopes must be hand processed so as not to crush and damage the seeds inside.)  When mailing seeds,carefully wrap the seeds (contained in a small paper envelope or a plastic baggie) in bubblewrap and be sure to write either “hand cancel” or “hand stamp” on the envelope.

In this fashion, this blogger was able to go from having a few varieties of native perennial pollinator flower seeds to enough vegetable seeds to plant next year’s garden and share with countless others and a mind-boggling variety of annual flower seeds to experiment with.

With all that the internet and social media has to offer, sharing and trading seeds has never been so easy or fun and almost everyone can spread the gardening love with just a few clicks of the mouse!