Heritage Farms

Today I traveled to Decorah, Iowa to check out the Heritage Farm seed saving exchange. This place has one of the largest collections of open-pollinated heirloom varieties for home gardeners like myself. It is an 890 acre farm with beautiful gardens and orchards.There are several different gardens to stroll through. The preservation gardens is where seeds are regenerated and grown to provide a refeshed seed supply. These gardens are designed to prevent cross-pollination and mantain genetic purity. The trial gardens are used to plant a sample of the seeds they receive from a grower to determine germination rate and genetic purity. These gardens serve as a system of checks and balances. Several other gardens like Diane’s Garden and the Seed Saving Garden are also open for public strolls. My favorite garden is the exchange garden. Each year, hundreds of SSE members share their seeds with others by listing them in the yearbook.
Besides the gardens, the farm also has a historic apple orchard and heritage breeds of livestock. The historic apple orchard features 550 different varieties of apples. The farm is one of two major breeding sites for Ancient White Park Cattle in the US. This breed is known for its well-marbles meat, efficient grazing and easy calving. Also, Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs are used in the orchards to clean up windfalls and this reduces pests.
Of course one can not visit the farm without picking up some seeds. I am excited about the Heritage Farm Poppy and I look forward to having this beautiful poppy growing in my garden. I also picked up a package of historic pansies mix. Unfortunately the original pansies introduced in the 1800s by the Vilmorin Company of Paris no longer exist, but seedman Kees Sahin of the Netherlands kept a collection of 13000 violas in the Netherlands. This mix was assembled by him and closely resembles the original “Bambini Mixture” from Vilmorin. I also picked up a sweet pea perinnial called Everlasting which I plan to have growing on the fence in my songbird garden. For vegetables I picked up the Chioggia beet seeds. This is a pre-1840 Italian heirloom beet introduced in the US before 1865. It has alternating red and white concentric rings that resemble little bull’s-eyes.
Tonight I will be planting herbs and peppers of every variety you can think of as they were giving away their leftover plants. What a great day at the farm!

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