The Magic of Seed Savers Exchange

Seed Savers Exchange 2013 catalog.

One of the most common questions I receive as a garden educator is inquiring where I buy my seeds for my garden.  There are dozens of seed companies out there in the world, many of them very small.  I usually purchase my seeds from two companies, but this year, I plan to try some new sources and I’ll report back to you later this year.  In the meantime, one of my favorite local, midwest seed companies is Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).

SSE is a non-profit organization with an important mission – sharing and saving heirloom seeds.  Not only do they publish a seed catalog each year featuring a portion of their collection, they also own one of the largest seed banks in North America which preserves thousands of old varieties of seed.  Many of the varieties arrive tucked in an envelope with accompanying letters explaining the history of the seed, describing the person who tucked it into a pocket when immigrating to the United States, telling sweet gardening stories and reliving summer memories of years past. The stories behind the seeds serve as a type of collective memory of our agricultural and migratory history.  Which such a lovely and positive mission, how could one not order seeds through SSE?


Woven twig sculpture in the demonstration garden with the restored barn in the background.

The SSE Heritage Farm, open to the public year round, sits on 890 rolling acres outside of Decorah, IA.  If you are a Midwest gardener and haven’t yet visited I definitely recommend planning a trip into your 2013 calendar.  There are beautiful demonstrations gardens, a visitors’ center, a large orchard with antique apple varieties and heirloom breeds of various animals, including a herd of the 2000 year old Ancient White Park Cattle.

This past year my husband and I finally attended their Annual Conference and Campout in July.  It was one of the most inspiring and engaging weekends we’ve had in quite a while.  It was a low key affair with no more than 150 attendees and the speakers were fabulous.  I was thrilled to attend a talk by Rosalind Creasy, whose books I pored over while planning my first children’s garden 10 years ago.  I was also elated by the mission of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which was started by a librarian and combines art and gardening in a way that thrills this artist gardener’s heart.  One of my favorite parts of the weekend was the tour of the land which traveled through the various isolation gardens where they are slowly working through the seed bank and growing out hundreds of varieties each year to keep the seeds viable and healthy.  At the end of the tour we stopped into the seed fulfillment center and got the opportunity to see firsthand what happens after we place our seed order each year.  It’s a sweet feeling to be able to picture the land, the facility and the people who are working together to enable me to purchase my garden seeds each January.

The seed packing machine at the fulfillment center.

Seeds in cold storage waiting to be sorted into packets.

Seed packets ready to be sent to you!

I am out of the country right now for another four weeks and won’t be able to order my seeds until I get back.  I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite vegetable variety, but you have to promise that you won’t order all of the seed before I get back and place my own order!  My husband and I ordered  Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper for our first garden together 11 years ago without knowing much about it.  Without a doubt it has become our favorite pepper we have ever grown.  It’s not your typical sweet pepper, as it is long and skinny like a hot pepper.  But, it’s the best fresh eating pepper I have ever tasted and with little seeds to remove, it’s a pepper that is easy to quickly chop and freeze for the winter.  We often eat whole peppers while harvesting them in the summer and always exclaim how much we love them.

Share your favorites with other gardeners in the comments section below.  What is your favorite seed company and variety?

Jimmy Nardello pepper from Seed Savers Exchange.

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    Jill Schneider

    Megan, thanks for the great post about Seed Savers. We visited Seed Savers several years ago and bought some garlic while there. We are still planting each year’s garlic from that original purchase. Talk about a good investment! I wanted to share that two of our favorite Seed Savers varieties are Mexico Midget (cherry tomato that when sliced in half dries great in my little dehydrator) and Georgia Flame pepper, a mildly hot pepper that also dries well. We’ll have to try the Jimmy Nardello this year. Sounds like a winner.

    • Avatar

      Thanks, Jill! I haven’t grown either of those yet, I might just have to add them to my list this year.

  • […] recently wrote about Jimmy Nardello pepper and it stands as my favorite all-time pepper.  Others that I like to have in my garden each […]

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