Heirloom Seed Saving and Sharing

Heirloom Seed-Saving Demonstration

Heirloom vegetables are varieties that are grown, selected, saved, named, and shared by farmers and gardeners.  In each region of the world, one can find seed-savers and plant breeders continuing the tradition of preserving and enhancing varieties of vegetables, fruits, grains, flowers, and even livestock.  

The recent trend of relying on large seed companies to provide for gardens and farms has threatened the existence of many heirloom varieties by replacing local and regional seed-saving traditions with large-scale commercial seed production of a few varieties of each crop.  This project aims to help preserve our edible heritage by demonstrating seed-saving techniques, introducing farmers to seed-saving efforts of the region, and collecting seeds from gardeners/farmers of the region to preserve and share.   

Our Beginning

In 2007, we teamed up with the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy (AHSC), a non-profit network of plant enthusiasts.  Its function was to:

Unfortunately, the AHSC dissolved in 2008, and this important work is now being carried out by smaller projects like this one at Kentucky State University.


Seed-Saving at the Kentucky State University Research and Demonstration Farm 

Several varieties of tomatoes, beans, cowpeas, cucumbers and okra were donated by the AHSC for our seed-saving plot at the KSU Farm. We have grown each variety with adequate distance and/or barriers around it to discourage cross-pollination between varieties, and enough plants of each variety were grown to select pure, healthy seed. Half of the seed will be donated back to the AHSC for their living seed bank, while is available for future seed-saving efforts and/or sharing with gardeners in the area.

The Varieties

Here are just a few of the heirloom varieties we've grown: 

Rose Beauty Tomato

Rose Beauty Tomato: grown in the 1920's in the Estill/Jackson County area.  A regular-leaf, indeterminant plant that yields large yellow/rose fruit.   

Depp's Pink Firefly Tomato

Depp's Pink Firefly Tomato: a family heirloom, circa 1890, from Glasgow, Kentucky.  A potato-leaf, indeterminant plant with very large reddish-pink fruits with flecking. 

Jimmy's White Cucumber

Jimmy's White Cucumber: from a gentleman in Pennsylvania who traces them back three generations to his people in Kentucky around 1900.  A full-sized white cuke.  

2008 Tomato Yields 

Here is some yield information from four varieties of tomatoes we grew this year.  Ten plants of each variety yielded the following results:

Variety Total Weight of Harvest (lb) Average Weight of Fruits (oz)
Depp's Firefly Pink Tomato 72 0.83
Rose Beauty Tomato 105.5 0.86
Old Kentucky Tomato 81 0.80
Pike County Tomato 52.5 0.78

Fall 2008: Garlic

A small portion  of the heirloom plot was planted with three local garlic varieties:

Spring 2009: Looking Ahead

The heirloom project is expanding in size.  Our plot from 2007-08 has been planted with spring oats and field peas...laid to rest in a cover crop.  The new plot has room for longer rows of tomatoes, to ensure purer seed.  We also have room to incorporate three new tomatoes collected from gardeners in Indiana.   

If you have an heirloom variety you would like to share/preserve, please be in touch!  

For more information contact: email

Related Efforts

Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, Inc.   The Center grows many heirloom beans and tomatoes, offering some for sale, while sharing information about farming and seed-saving to convey that "The heirloom market is a flower in the bud stage, just waiting to blossom.  They also facilitate a seed-exchange every year.

Seed Saver's Exchange  This non-profit is preserving hundreds of heirlooms on their 890-acre farm in Iowa.  

The Save Our Seed Project  This project is a group of 10 partners who work with southeast farmers and extension agents in the production of organic and heirloom seed.


Last updated April 17, 2009

College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems