A Trip to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa

Last Tuesday I did something I have never done before. I went on a field trip with the Master Gardener group to which I have belonged since 2004. Their trip was to a place in Decorah Iowa called Seed Savers Exchange.  I’ve always been interested in the process of saving seeds, and here we got a nice introduction to it during our guided tour.

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I was about a half-hour early, which gave me time to look around the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center.  Many seeds were available to purchase. I was not too adventuresome and stuck with a few varieties I know I will use and enjoy. One of the other Master Gardeners I know asked about the seeds’ viability, to which she was answered 3-5 years in the right conditions.

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This Amish Build Barn is the visitor center at Seed Saver’s Exchange.

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A map was provided of the grounds which include hiking trails, animals such as geese, ducks, and chickens, display gardens,  and apple orchards containing over 1500 historic varieties, some of which we have in our home orchard like Northern Spy.  I was surprised at how little the gardener group knew of apple tree growth. This is apple country after all. But, some seemed to forget that apples usually grow from scion rootstock, not seeds.  The apple orchard was not included in the tour but it would be a focal point for me on my next visit.

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We started in the back of the visitor’s center and had a great introduction by our tour guide who informed us of the family that lived at Heritage Farm and how Seed Savers Exchange got started.  The barn (which has been refurbished) has morning glories growing up the side (you can see them in the photo below) that are from the seed that started it all – a grandfather passing seed down to a granddaughter getting married, many years ago. Saving seed was an idea that caused both the gardens and the trend of passing down seeds grow. The next few photos will show you the display gardens and how beautiful it is at Heritage Farm. The plants are all grown from saved seed.

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Diane’s Garden at Heritage Farm included many familiar plants such as phlox and black eyed Susan, but also had Kiss me Over the Garden Gate, and amaranth. Showy goldenrod, in its full glory, caught my eye immediately too!  The paths were clear but narrow, encasing you in the riot of color.

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This is the backside of Diane’s Garden. Diane can sometimes be found working in the flower beds. I can understand why as they are very beautiful!

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It was inside the barn in which we heard about preserving tomato seeds. Heritage Farm grows 30-50 varieties annually. They are processed for their seeds which is a painstaking 36-48 hour process that includes fermentation! Now I know why those heirloom tomatoes are so expensive in the seed catalogs! Wow!

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After leaving Diane’s Garden we went around front to the experimental gardens. The following photos are from this plot. There were vegetables, flowers, and even some monarch larva feasting on Butterfly weed. I counted seven caterpillars on the plants,

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The tour wound up here in the experimental garden. We were allowed to wander it on our own and then leave, hike, or explore Diane’s garden again if we chose.  Above is sorghum, a crop that I have never seen but have read about in the past. It was impressively tall!  The day was gorgeous, but I had to be on my way home. I know I’ll come back to Seed Savers Exchange, if not for the seeds, but for any number of other things – apples, hiking trails, gardening tools, or just advice! They also have a wonderful website and catalog if one is interested in hearing more!

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