16 Heirloom and Historic Seeds | Living the Country Life
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16 Heirloom and Historic Seeds

These rare and historic heirloom varieties are preserved so they can be savored for generations.
  • Preserving the Past

    What's old is always new in the world of heirloom gardening. Heirloom varieties that date back centuries have the power to connect us to historic gardening practices, which is the aim of Seed Savers Exchange's newest catalogue of seed varieties. All 16 varieties are relevant today while providing a look into our past. "Food brings people - families,communities, neighbors - together," says Seed Savers Exchange executive director Lee Buttala. "And food grown in our backyards, from seeds that have a story, strengthen our sense of togetherness and unity." 

    Putting seeds like these in the hands of gardeners allows varieties to be savored today while preserving our seed heritage. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Isle of Naxos Basil

    A lettuce-leaf strain, this tall basil grows 24 to 30 inches and produces a steady crop of large, lush leaves if its flowers are pinched off regularly, according to Seed Savers Exchange. The basil comes from longtime Seed Savers Exchange member and advisor David Cavagnaro, who received it from Jana Muhar, who collected the seeds while living on the Greek island of Naxos. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Yellow Intermediate Mangel Beet

    This beet's white and yellow ringed roots measure 4 to 6 1/2 inches long and vary in shape. "While mangel and fodder beets are larger than typical beets and are generally used for animal feed, the sweet, juicy, and smooth textured roots are perfect for the dinner table as well as the barnyard," Seed Savers Exchange says.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Jebousek Lettuce

    This deer-tongue lettuce has won over enough taste testers to prove its fine flavor. These compact plants have rosettes of dark green and triangular leaves, which grow 7 to 9 inches long and 4 to 5 inches wide. The seed originates in Czechoslovakia. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Simpson Okra

    According to Seed Savers Exchange, "The straight green downy pods of this variety are intermediate in length and width, and are best eaten when under 5 inches long." Seed Savers Exchange member Dr. James Wolfe received the variety from the Simpson family of Rogersville, Tennessee, dating back as early as the 1940s. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Cairns Family Hanover Rutabaga

    "Tan roots with light red and green shoulders grow to 6 to 8 inches in diameter, and have a sweet flavor after a frost," according to Seed Savers Exchange. Evalynn Schnackenberg shared this family heirloom rutabaga in 2013, as her grandmother's cousin was an avid gardener and grew it as early as the 1950s in Washington. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Auntie Wilder Bean

    "Sweet, tender, and juicy, this heirloom pole bean has great taste," according to Seed Savers Exchange. It has a strong climbing habit and produces 7-inch long dark-purple pods. The seed is traced to an immigrant named "Auntie Wilder" who brought the seeds from Sweden in the 1890s.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Monstorpolgi Celeriac

    Reportedly savored by the French since the 1600s, this celery root variety has a mild, sweet celery flavor and firm, round roots. Its root, stems, and leaves make a fine addition to soups and stews. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Ellen Felton Dark Collard

    This heirloom collard dates to at least 1935 and produces green, elliptical tender leaves with a sweet, slightly fruity taste. Plants measure 15 to 22 inches tall by 22 to 35 inches wide and fare well in low temperatures. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Jernigan Yellow Cabbage Collard

    "This faintly sweet, buttery-tasting heirloom collard produces modest heads and light-green to yellow-green edible leaves that are elliptical, lobed, and slightly dangling," according to Seed Savers Exchange. Plants measure 17 to 23 inches tall by 32 to 43 inches wide. It hails from Snow Hill, North Carolina, where Nancy and James Jernigan grew it throughout their lives after receiving it from James' father. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Bloody Butcher, Northern Corn

    With ears that reach 8 to 9 inches in length and striking dark-red kernels, this quick-maturing heirloom dent corn is great as an ornament and for making distinctively colored flour. Its stalks reach 8 feet in height at maturity. This is a northern-adapted strain of an old eastern U.S. variety that predates 1870.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Jaune du Poitou Leek

    Beautiful yellow-green leaves, a mild taste, and a wide, thick edible white shank have long made this leek a popular variety in Europe. This rare historic variety was described by the French seed house Vilmorin-Andrieux as early as 1856.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Whitesitt Family Baby Lima Bean

    "This exceptionally versatile heirloom pole lima bean tastes delicious just-picked or cooked" according to Seed Savers Exchange. When jade-green, the limas are sweet-tasting and thin-skinned; the dry limas have a creamy texture and buttery flavor. Its slightly curved pods average roughly 3 inches long by .8 inches wide. It's been prized by the Whitesitt family since 1887.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Apple Pepper

    The broad-shouldered, conical, sweet peppers of this variety reach 3 inches in length and ripen to all red on sturdy plants. Seed Savers Exchange member Ron Thuma has grown it faithfully since 1993, when he obtained the pepper from Johnny's Selected Seeds for trial. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Ames Amber Sorghum

    This sweet syrup sorghum derives its name from Ames-based Iowa State University, where it was developed prior to 1920 for syrup production. It can also be used as an ornamental. The variety grows up to 8 feet tall and produces juicy, sweet stalks, and matte-green leaves and midribs. Plants have one to two flowering stems that extend several inches. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Salvaterra's Select Tomato

    "This tomato's great meaty texture is paired with tangy, sweet flavor that make it an ideal sauce tomato," according to Seed Savers Exchange. It tends to mature a bit later, but have above average productivity. Grown by Charles Salveterra since the early 1980s, this heirloom indeterminate tomato has been shared within the Hazelton, Pennsylvania community for decades.

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017
  • Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

    Borries Yellow Watermelon

    This juicy, flavorful variety ranks first with Seed Savers Exchange's greenhouse manager, who has sampled dozens of watermelon varieties. The oblong fruit averages 15 to 20 pounds, ripens to green with dark-green stripes, and produces yellow, sweet flesh. 

    Date Published: October 9, 2017
    Date Updated: October 11, 2017

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