Heirloom Seed Saving at Shaker Village

Have you considered heirloom seed saving for your garden?  This is something I’ve tinkered with over the years, but after my recent press visit to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky I’m thoroughly inspired to convert the bulk of my garden to heirloom seeds.

Shaker Village is a hidden gem in heart of Kentucky bourbon country. It’s a landmark destination that shares 3,000 acres of discovery in the spirit of the Kentucky Shakers, including an operational farm and heirloom garden.  During my sponsored visit, I had the chance to explore the gardens and participate in the Seed Saver workshop (one of the many daily seasonal programs offered to visitors).

I didn’t realize how instrumental the Shaker community was to our modern horticultural practices. They were the first to market seeds including distribution, packaging and cataloging. What a wonderful legacy they left us!

At Shaker Village they serve heirloom ingredients straight from the farm in their lovely restaurant, The Trustees Table. When they say “seed-to-table” dining, they are quite literally referring to the amazing heirloom seeds grown on the certified organic farm steps away from the diner. Gourmet restaurant dining truly doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Heirloom Seed Saving at Shaker Village

What are heirloom ingredients?

“Heirloom ingredients” is currently the buzz-phrase in the culinary world. So what exactly is a heirloom ingredient?

Heirloom ingredients are grown from heirloom seeds which have been pollinated naturally by birds, insects, wind, water or animals. This process is generally referred to as open pollination.

When seeds from the fruit of the new plant are harvested and planted, the resulting fruit or vegetable will look and taste exactly the same as those from the parent plant.

The major difference between heirloom, hybrid and GMO plants is that heirloom plants are the only ones that breed true. This means the same attributes (color, shape, taste, and so on) are passed on from one generation to the next.

For example, if you plant a heirloom tomato seed today, and save some seeds from each subsequent crop, 30 years down the line, your children could be eating tomatoes that taste exactly the same.  And in theory, once you’ve bought the original seeds for your first heirloom crop, you need never buy another pack of tomato seeds again.

Heirloom Seed Saving at Shaker Village

True heirloom ingredients derive from plants that have been open pollinated for between 50 and 100 years. In other words, they’re just like the ones your grandparents ate.

Some sources define the cut off point for heirloom vegetables as 1951.  This is the year when the first hybrid vegetables were produced.  Others insist that heirloom seeds should be varieties from the 1940’s, or even before that.

That’s the gardening picture regarding heirloom ingredients. From a culinary point of view, the flavor is superb, because the plant has not been hybridized to achieve uniform shape or extend shelf life, which can often degrade or change the flavor.

Because there is no sort of modification to heirloom ingredients, the produce doesn’t always look as pretty as those on the supermarket shelves.  But the taste is generally exceptional!

Heirloom Seed Saving at Shaker Village

Saving Heirloom Seeds

At the Shaker Village Seed Saver program, I was gifted 7 varieties of heirloom seeds from the Shaker Village farm to take home and plant in our Rural Mom garden this spring.  Each participant in the program receives seeds, which may vary from season to season.

During my visit, we received heirloom seeds for bean, okra, peppers, cow peas (black-eyed peas), tomatoes, musk melon and sunflowers.  Along the tour, we visited each plant to learn about their attributes and were able to sample a few heirloom tomatoes along the way, too – truly a delicious and informative program.

Around 10 weeks before the last frost in Kentucky this Spring, I’ll be able to start the seeds in my garden.  And seriously, can’t wait!

If I want to add more varieties to my garden, our Shaker Village farm guide suggested purchasing from Johnny Seed Company or Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  Both are companies they have had good success with purchasing and planting seeds for Shaker Village.

Heirloom Seed Saving at Shaker Village

Visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

The Seed Saver program is just one of the many lovely reasons to visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. You’ll find plenty of unique experiences to treasure and all, not just the seeds, will be ones you take with you in your heart and to your home!

Shaker Village is currently celebrating the fall season with breath-taking views and plenty of special events. To plan your trip, visit https://shakervillageky.org/

There’s so much to enjoy at Shaker Village.  You’ll definitely want to consider staying the night in one of their restored Shaker homes.  Receive 10% off when you book your stay at The Inn at Shaker Village by October 31, 2019.  Just call 1-800-734-5611 and use code SMI1 when booking.

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Tags: farm fresh, garden, organic, rural lifestyle, sustainable living, vegetables
Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, when she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s making tea and writing about country living and artisan culture.
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