Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The Heirloom Seed Project (HSP) of the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, one of two dozen historic sites and museums administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), literally helps families in the Keystone State (and beyond) bring history to the table – at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Keystone State has long been a supplier of seeds to the nation. David Landreth and Sons, founded in Philadelphia in 1784 and still in existence – albeit now located in New Freedom in southern York County – was the first successful commercial seed house in America. Landreth was an important grower of seeds of plants brought back by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, most notably the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), widely planted as hedges throughout the United States. It was one of the first seed companies to import and grow seed varieties from Japan after the country opened to trade with the West in 1853. The company counted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among its early customers.

Ultimately even more important than Landreth would be W. Atlee Burpee and Company, of Warminster, founded in 1876. The firm, which originally grew seeds at its Fordhook Farms in Bucks County, remains famous for its Fordhook Hybrids, synonymous with the latest in plant hybridization. Following recent trends, however, the company’s catalogues now offer heirloom varieties side by side with its more widely touted newest introductions. Popular interest in heirloom seeds was pioneered, in part, by what would become the Heirloom Seed Project at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. In many ways HSP owes a great deal to the Pennsylvania German culture which the museum celebrates and interprets.

Gude Suma, Gude Gaarde (“Good Seeds, Good Garden”) is a time-honored mantra of Pennsylvania Germans, justifiably respected for Bringing History to the Table their frugality and their attention to tradition in saving many varieties of garden plants from extinction in a time of professional hybridization. While records exist of seeds being offered for sale in Pennsylvania even earlier than Landreth in the eighteenth century, it was not until after the American Civil War and the rise of large commercial growers such as Dreer’s, Johnson and Stokes, William Henry Maule, and Burpee that most gardeners and farmers stopped saving their own seeds. The late nineteenth century also saw the beginning of devotion to the use of specialist-produced hybrid seeds.

The genesis of the modern seed movement is succinctly explained in Heirloom Vegetables (1998) by Sue Strickland. “For millennia,” Strickland asserts, “farmers and gardeners were the plant breeders, improving crops by selection from generation to generation. In the 19th century, rather than waiting for changes to occur at random in nature, a few experimenters started to make deliberate crosses between plants. By choosing the plants carefully, these early hybridizers hoped that the offspring would have the desirable characteristics of both parents….

“At first new varieties were developed by individuals and small family-based seedsmen, still with the involvement of farmers and gardeners, but techniques gradually became more sophisticated. There were also pressures to make plants of the same variety less variable, so those with slightly ‘wrong’ characteristics (for commercial purposes) were weeded out. Over several generations varieties were developed that were very uniform and reproduced that uniformity; these were known as ‘pure lines.’ In the 1930s the first ‘F1 hybrid’ corn varieties were produced, the seed coming from crossing two inbred pure lines. F1 hybrids of other crops soon followed.

“In the last twenty-five years [beginning in 1998], plant breeding has become the specialist realm of micro-biologists, geneticists and other scientists. It is a complex major industry. Dozens of potato varieties, for example, can be screened for blight resistance in the glasshouse within 3-4 weeks of germination, rather than growing them in a field for several months, and any useful mate-rial resulting can be held in test tubes using tissue culture. Genetic engineering allows specific genes in plants to be located and marked in the laboratory, and then moved between species in a way that was never possible with traditional hybridization methods.

“Today, farmers and gardeners are seldom involved in plant development. It is geared to the perceived needs of industry, which is typically concerned with relatively short-term gain. Plant breeding has also become extremely expensive: for example, the development and marketing of one of the first genetically engineered varieties to be released, the Flavr Savr tomato . . . is said to have cost in excess of ninety-five million U.S. dollars. With such investment, it is no wonder that a few varieties dominate the shelves of superstores, and the pages of catalogues.”

Hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) became a national celebrity whose feats in improving vegetables and flowers were widely applauded. He was proclaimed a genius by Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison, among many others. While he worked cooperatively with many seed houses, Burbank was especially active with the well-known company founded in 1876 by a Quaker cousin, W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915). Hybrids became the glamour crops of the nation. They reflected a uniquely American ethos: Newer! Bigger! Better! Hybrids often provide higher yields and are more disease resistant than their open-pollinated ancestors. The new varieties were often apparently sturdier and longer-lasting than the older ones. As one wag observed, “The ideal American strawberry is as large as an Idaho potato, and just as tasty.”

By the twentieth century, most Pennsylvania farmers and gardeners had begun purchasing seeds and were proud of their use of hybrids – this even among many of the Plain people. After Amish farmer Joseph F. Beiler’s death early in the twenty-first century he was eulogized for his piety and his traditional ways, but as a farmer, given community restraints, he was as progressive as he could be. “He was one of the first to use a field chopper to cut hay, blow it onto a wagon, and haul the feed to the cows. New seeds and county agents’ recommendations all caught his attention.”

Henry Harrison Landis (1838-1926), father of museum founders Henry Kinzer Landis (1865-1955) and George Diller Landis (1867- 1954), farmed the land at Landis Valley. In his diary in the 1870s, he wrote that he particularly favored growing the Early Rose potato, a variety introduced in 1870, and undoubtedly favored the latest in seeds as well, although none are mentioned specifically.

While modern seeds are well adapted to commercial production, many hybrids give their best yields only under ideal conditions. Additionally, many modern hybrids are deficient in both taste and aroma or scent from traditional varieties, which were becoming nearly impossible to obtain, unless a gardener or farmer knew a seed saver. Beginning in the 1960s, orchardists and gardeners began to realize thousands of varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers were rapidly disappearing. Not only were their special qualities being lost, but their precious genetic material was slipping away. Monocultures were becoming manifold and genetic diversity was in danger of vanishing forever.

While many individuals were concerned about this, Kent and Diane Whealy are among the most successful individuals to remedy the situation. In 1972, Diane Whealy’s grandfather Baptist John Ott entrusted to his granddaughter and her husband the seeds of three plants his forbears had brought from Bavaria to north-eastern Iowa generations earlier. “These were two vegetables – a large German tomato and a prolific climbing bean – and a beautiful dark strain of the flower morning glory,” Kent Whealy recalled.

Not long after Ott’s death, Whealy remembered, “Diane and I immediately started trying to locate other families who were also keeping heirloom seeds, hoping to increase the genetic diversity available to gardeners growing healthy food for their families. We soon discovered a vast, almost unknown genetic treasure quietly being maintained by elderly gardeners and farmers. Heirloom seeds are especially prevalent in isolated mountainous areas, such as the Ozarks, Smokies, and Appalachians, and also among traditional peoples such as the Mennonites, Amish, and Native Americans. It became immediately apparent that these were excellent home garden varieties, often extremely flavorful, tender, and productive. Gardeners are continuously growing and comparing varieties; those that don’t measure up are quickly discarded, certainly not maintained for 150 years or more. And over such long periods, many of these heirloom seeds had slowly developed resistances to local diseases and insects, and had gradually become well adapted to specific climates and soil conditions. This heritage of heirloom seeds, which vastly outnumbers the offerings of the entire garden seed industry in North America, had never been systematically collected.

“Diane and I founded the Seed Savers Exchange [SSE] in 1975. For more than two decades we have continued to locate gardeners keeping heirloom food crops, and have organized them into an annual seed exchange. Over the years SSE’s members have distributed an estimated 750,000 samples of rare seeds that were unavailable commercially and were often on the verge of extinction.”

Today there are organizations devoted to seed saving in various countries, and the heirloom seed phenomenon developed as many forces came together: a search for heritage, the quest for healthier foods, a widespread rejection of corporate culture and the homogeneity it fosters, and the maturity of living history museums.

The Landis brothers had not been sensitive to the need for the preservation of gardens or seeds, but an interest in garden plants traditionally grown by Pennsylvania Germans became of concern to the scholarly community as the old ways began disappearing. Probably the most inclusive list of plants grown in Dutch gardens had been published in 1923 by David E. Luck and the Reverend Thomas R. Brendle. The pioneer modern scholar of this type of garden, Alan G. Keyser, published a seminal article entitled “Gardens and Gardening Among the Pennsylvania Germans” in 1971. Important research and publication continues.

Keyser documented the need for historically correct garden forms, and the garden at the museum’s re-created eighteenth-century-inspired Log Farm was where historically accurate gardening was introduced at Landis Valley. Volunteer Lee Stoltzfus, born Amish and today a rare books dealer specializing in garden books, began with others voicing concerns about the varieties of plants being grown in the garden. At the time a photographer, Stoltzfus became interested in ancestral garden forms and built his own garden along historic lines and began designing gardens for others. Perhaps he first directly articulated the need for the seed program that would become HSP. There was a precedent. He knew sources for historically correct apple varieties.

One of the individuals most concerned about plants being raised in the gardens was Stephen S. Miller, then in his twenties, the farm manager and later the administrator of Landis Valley Museum. (Miller is currently director of PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums.) One of his duties was to show the gardens to visitors who increasingly began asking questions about historical authenticity. Miller soon realized the plantings were less than genuine. He championed the concept of historical accuracy and developed standards with the help of many volunteers, including Nancy Pippert, a registered nurse by profession, who had a talent for establishing records and databases needed for the program that developed around heirloom seeds. A dedicated gardener, she also worked in the gardens. Initially a volunteer, then a part-time employee of the Landis Valley Associates, Pippert is considered a founding mother of HSP.

Together, Miller, Pippert, and others persuaded the administration of the museum and PHMC to establish HSP. By mission, the project “preserves seed varieties having historical significance to the Pennsylvania Germans between the mid-1700s and 1940.” The project is made possible by determined volunteers who, with professional supervision, “work with as much accuracy as possible to present precise information about our seeds, plant varieties and historical gardening techniques.” Publicity helped promote the program. The Lancaster New Era not only ran articles about HSP but also published a major editorial in its support. A few years later a two-page spread about the new program appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was subsequently picked up by a number of the syndicated Knight-Ridder newspapers throughout the nation. Hundreds of letters poured in from many German-settled areas throughout the United States; some offered encouragement and support, others wanted to order seeds. Founded in 1985, HSP enjoys official recognition from the Commonwealth, but it receives no state funds; it is supported by the Landis Valley Associates and the work of about fifty volunteers who tend to the gardens and prepare and market seeds. Sales have been generated through catalogues and now, increasingly, online and by direct sales at the Weathervane Shop, the museum store, also operated by the Associates. Shrinking budgets have, unfortunately, diminished the catalogues, which had been educational as well as sales tools.

An important and popular fundraiser for HSP is the annual Herb and Garden Faire held each May, for which volunteers raise thousands of seedlings from the heirloom seed collection for sale. The event has grown to become the largest of its class on the East Coast and today features nearly one hundred vendors proffering herbs, historic seeds, and garden accoutrements. Each winter Joe Schott, project director, offers a popular tree-grafting course featuring scions from the museum’s collection of historic apple varieties. The course has developed into a regional scion exchange during which collectors from Pennsylvania and neighboring states convene to exchange starts of historic varieties as they learn and practice the techniques of grafting.

Several active youth-based programs are associated with HSP. Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s Garden Gate Program introduces school-age children in the region to historic gardening. The program, which enrolls seventh-grade students from Manheim Township, where the museum is located, provides garden help as well as volunteer greenhouse workers and seed packers and sorters for HSP. The area surrounding the museum is rapidly suburbanizing. Several years ago Miller asked the forty-five new recruits in the project, all with Dutch names such as Burkholder and Herr, “How many live on a farm?” Just two raised their hands; in 1950 approximately forty would have.

One of the most frequently asked questions is: “How do researchers find historical information for gardens?” Local research is the first step to determining the age of a variety. Local research consists of people and the information they share. Varieties of plants have been identified with stories of “seeing this in my grandma’s garden” or “my great-grandmother brought the seeds for this plant from Germany when she and my great-grandfather immigrated.” Researchers listen for physical descriptions of the seeds, plants, and fruits so that when these varieties are trialed in the museum’s experimental gardens, staff and volunteers know what characteristics to look for and are watchful for consistencies season after season.

Diaries, old seed catalogues, almanacs, newspapers, and magazines are utilized by researchers. Preservationists such as William Woys Weaver, author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, and the Seed Savers Exchange assist in the documentation process. Without the cooperation, sharing, and common goals of other preservationists, HSP and similar organizations would not exist. The project is not only a link to the past, but also to the future. Without non-hybrid seeds, such as those the Heirloom Seed Project strives to preserve, commercial seed companies and researchers could not develop the hybrid varieties that feed the world. Without the open pollinated varieties that Landis Valley offers, many people would not know the heritage that is theirs to enjoy. Without HSP, many of the antique varieties would be lost forever.

In growing heirloom seeds, care must be taken to prevent inadvertent cross-pollination which produces hybrids, often of unknown lineage. Heirloom gardeners who grow more than one variety of a particular vegetable and want to save their own seeds must be cognizant of the ways in which these plants pollinate. Rows of different lettuces, for example, can be grown twenty-five feet apart. Varieties of beets must be separated by two to five miles, unless specimens are grown in cages or flower stalks are bagged before they bloom. Before seeds are ready to be identified as heirloom seeds for sale, HSP grows several generations of plants, always carefully rogueing (removing) them – something home gardeners who save seeds must also do. Rogueing is a process of removing plants from the garden that are not true to type in order to keep the variety pure. It’s important to do this from early in the growing season through fruiting. Ideally, plants which are showing “off traits” can be removed before they flower and fruit to prevent unwanted cross-pollination. In order to rogue the plants they don’t want, gardeners need to know what to look for at various stages in a plant’s life. Such knowledge can be obtained from reference books on heirloom plants or by experience. Heirloom seed growers remove any variety that does not satisfy their expectations in plant size, blossom color, fruit set and size, taste, color, and so on.

At any given time HSP is researching, trialing, or preserving approximately two hundred varieties of vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals and, not surprisingly, the most popular seeds are tomatoes and beans. HSP’s attention to tomatoes long precedes the contemporary craze, which is an early twenty-first-century phenomenon. In 2004, New York Magazineopined, “Heirloom mania has so gripped the collective culinary consciousness [that] ‘it would be almost daring now to serve just a beefsteak’ – even the good ones that come along in August.” It’s now difficult to find an upscale restaurant menu offering any tomato other than an unspecified “heirloom tomato.” Rutgers University’s Agricultural Department is experimenting to find the best heirlooms to grow in New Jersey. Most interesting of all, the Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation, Philadelphia, the largest supplier of table tomatoes in America, is currently promoting the “UglyRipe,” a deeply fissured tomato that looks like an heirloom, has a distinctive taste, and ships well.

HSP collects, grows, and researches heirloom tomatoes, especially potato-leaf strains, often referred to as German-type tomatoes. These varieties are unique because the shape of their leaves resemble potato leaves. The fruits of these tomatoes tend to be lobed, indicating older strains. They are indeterminate types, which continue to blossom and fruit until frost. Determinate varieties are compact in growth, and their fruits ripen over a short period of time.

The project offers eleven pink-red and five orange-yellow tomatoes, all of which predate 1900. The pink-reds are Amish Paste, Belgian Beauty, Black Brandywine, German Strawberry, Howard German, Oxheart, Pepper, Pink Brandywine, Red Brandywine, Reigart, and Riesentraube (“giant grape”). The orange-yellows are Golden Queen, Hartman Yellow Gooseberry, Mammoth German Gold, Pink Grapefruit, and Yellow Brandywine. Interestingly, the tomato was one of the last of the usual vegetables to be regularly grown by the Dutch; it was not commonly cultivated until the late nineteenth century. The most popular of the tomato varieties grown by the HSP is the Red Brandywine, which aficionados consider the quintessential heirloom variety. Originating in Chester County, its flesh is juicy with terrific tomato taste.

Many food writers tout the bean as the next heirloom darling, and HSP offers four categories: bush, Lima, pole, and wax, many of which bear colorful names. Two beans possessing a long local history are especially interesting. Grandma Stober’s Chow-Chow Bean (pre-1850) from Lancaster County is used in the popular Pennsylvania Dutch chow-chow, a pickled relish made of a variety of vegetables. The bean is white with a red eye and holds its shape when cooked. It is extremely prolific after maturing in ninety days. Mrs. Neidigh’s Six-Week Bean (pre-1850) is a snap bush bean that has been grown by a Lancaster County family for many years. It has an excellent flavor, but does require stringing before cooking. As with most beans, it can be dried for soups.

Common vegetables include varieties of cabbage (four, with Red Drumhead predating 1800), carrots (one, Early Scarlet Horn, pre-1710), corn (three, including Pennsylvania Dutch Butter-Flavored Popcorn, pre-1885), cucumbers (two, with Gherkin, pre-dating 1793), kale (one), leeks (one), and lettuce (three, including Deertongue, circa 1740), peas (four, including Prussian Blue, circa 1825), spinach (one) and turnip (one). Two unusual vegetables seldom seen are Huberschmidts ground cherry (Physalis Pubescens) and black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), both of which predate 1800. Also offered are four melons, the oldest of which is citron melon (citrullus melo), whose flesh should be candied to enhance its taste. Gourds are in a class of their own. HSP preserves the functional varieties known as “dipper” and “large bottle,” both of which can be made into household utensils or bird houses.

Herbs grown are agrimony, American pennyroyal, basil, caraway, chives, coriander, dill, elecampane, feverfew, garlic chives, German chamomile, horehound, lovage, mugwort, parsley, summer savory, sweet cicely, and sweet marjoram. They have historically been used as flavorings, medicinals, or both. Specialty plants include red broom corn (sorghum), grown for its stiff tassels, Job’s Tears (coix lachrymal-Jobii), raised for its hard-shelled seeds used in making trinkets, and mole plant (Euphoreis lathyrus), orMaulwarfgraut in Dutch, grown around the perimeter of gardens to deter moles.

In addition to herbs, HSP also markets seeds of field crops, the most familiar of which are buckwheat, Lancaster surecrop corn, flax, and rye. Manglewurtzels, a beet-like crop that produces huge roots, is used for animal feed, and spelt (Triticum spelta L.) has long been used for bread and gingerbread making by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

The Heirloom Seed Project is proud of its Gude Suma, all of which determined and dedicated gardeners can save for them-selves. But heirloom gardeners who don’t save seeds for them-selves should remember that the Dutch have also been buying seeds for a long time. A Reading, Berks County, merchant, for example, advertised as early as 1831 in the Chronicle of the Times: “Fresh Garden Seeds, just received, an extensive variety of fresh and choice Garden Seeds, warranted genuine from Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The space which it would be necessary occupy in the columns of a newspaper, to insert an entire catalogue of the subscriber’s excellent assortment of Seeds, is by far too large, and must be satisfied by enumerating the different sorts of Cabbage Seeds, viz:-Early York, Early Sugar loaf, Yellow Savoy, Drum Head, Large Drum Head, Low Dutch, (very fine) Turnip above ground, Turnip below ground, Red Dutch, Cauliflower, Brocoli, Berecol or Kale. Catalogues will very shortly be printed and circulated.”

The Pennsylvania Germans in their agriculture and horticulture have generally embraced a mixture of the old and the new, with the balances shifting with the times and changing mores. In the twenty-first century the culture is being diluted as more and more Dutch and their descendants leave the farm-land and enter the mainstream. Many of them still garden, however. To this day, many Pennsylvania Germans retain a closeness to the soil that transcends mere occupation. It has religious overtones. Perhaps it has something to do with their unique history; maybe it has something to do with their sense of clan and place. The Heirloom Seed Project proudly helps many Pennsylvania German gardeners reclaim their heritage, as it helps museums in the United States propagate and preserve authentic crops. For everyone else it offers the opportunity to grow delicious foodstuffs and pretty flowers using heirloom seeds. Gude Suma, Gude Gaarde can be amended by adding Gude Esse (“Good Eating”).


For Further Reading

Ashworth, Suzanne, and Kent Whealy. Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners. Decorah, Iowa: Seed Savers Exchange, 2002.

Richman, Irwin. Pennsylvania German Farms, Gardens, and Seeds: Landis Valley in Four Centuries. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2007.

____. Seed Art: The Package Made Me Buy It. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2008.

Richman, Irwin, and Michael Emery. Yesterday’s Farm Tools and Equipment. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2010.

Strickland, Sue, with Kent Whealy. Heirloom Vegetables: A Home Gardener’s Guide to Finding and Growing Vegetables from the Past. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Weaver, William Woys. 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 2000.

____. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History. New York: Henry Holt and Company/Owl Publishing Company, 1999.


Saving Seeds

Techniques of harvesting seeds vary from variety to variety. It’s basically a simple process requiring patience, vigilance, and minimal equipment.

For beans, peas, corn, lettuce, and ornamentals, it’s a matter of patience. Allow the fruit to remain on the plant until the pod has dried (in the case of beans and peas) or until the dried seeds are ready to fall off or blow away. The ideal time to harvest the seeds of beans and peas is when seeds can fall easily from the plant. Lighter seed heads that depend on the wind to distribute them require only a little more patience. In the case of lettuce or salsify, check the plants daily – twice a day is even better – and pluck the seeds along with the white fuzz before it blows away.

For melons the process is easier but much messier. The seeds extract sugar from the fruit while imbedded inside. Seeds will be most viable if, after harvesting ripe fruit, it is allowed to begin softening on the outside. Open up the fruit and scoop out the seeds, rinse them, and spread them on a paper towel until dry.

Cucumber and tomatoes are the most complicated because they must go through a fermentation process before their seeds can be stored. Tomatoes can be harvested as they ripen, but cucumbers should be left on the vine until they are overripe. Begin by scooping the seeds encased in their gel sacs (the membrane that surrounds the seeds) into a glass jar. After removing the seeds from the tomatoes, put a little water in the jar, stir, label the jar with the name and the date the fruit was seeded, and place the jar in a cool, dry place. Cover the jar lightly with a paper towel and secure with a rubber band as fermentation does become odoriferous! Do not cover tightly with a lid and do not fill the jars more than three-quarters full to allow for escaping gas. After about three days of fermenting, (which varies with the air temperature), sludge will form on top of the mixture. This consists of mold, useless seeds, and bits of pulp. Good seeds sink to the bottom and useless seeds float to the top. Stir the mixture each day to help release any good seeds caught in the sludge. The purpose of fermenting the seeds is to destroy mold and fungi spores which could harm the seed and decrease germination rates. Allowing the seeds to ferment too long encourages the protective gel sac surrounding each seed to break down, causing the seeds to sprout.

Once the sludge layer has formed, it is generally safe to wash the seeds. Scoop off the worst of the sludge and begin draining the remaining liquid. As the liquid is pouring off, so too are the useless seeds which have floated to the top during fermentation. When reaching the seeds at the bottom of the jar, stop pouring, and fill the jar with clean, cold water. Allow the seeds to settle again, and pour off the liquid. Repeat until the seeds are washed and clean and the water remains clear.

The next step in the saving of seeds is crucial.

Once seeds have been harvested and processed (by either fermentation or shelling), they should be allowed to dry. Place the seeds on a paper towel on a flat dish or pan out of direct light in a climate-controlled place where they will have little chance of being disturbed by curious children, pets, or (worse) mice. Be sure to label the paper towels. Gently move the seeds around each day to prevent them from sticking together.

Within a few days the seeds should be dry enough to store for the winter. Store seeds in an airtight container and in a cool, dry, and dark space, such as a refrigerator. Word of caution: if seeds have been stored in a refrigerator or freezer, allow them to warm to room temperature before opening the container. Do not mix seeds from different years; genetic crossings don’t immediately appear, and seed savers need a way of tracing and confining a problem should one arise.


Author’s Favorites

The author’s favorite tomatoes are two lesser known varieties. The German Strawberry Tomato (pre-1900), touted as the “Ultimate Sandwich Tomato,” resembles a giant strawberry. These uniform, pepper-shaped fruits average ten inches in circumference, contain little juice and firm meat, and possess excellent flavor. The Hartman Yellow Gooseberry Tomato (pre-1900), a cherry tomato variety, is a vigorous producer of one-inch size fruit. It surpasses its modern day hybrid relatives in taste with its mildly acidic, or tart, flavor.

Visit the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum website for a list of heirloom seeds available from the Heirloom Seed Project, including descriptions of varieties and a downloadable order form.


This article is adapted from the author’s Pennsylvania German Farms, Gardens, and Seeds: Landis Valley in Four Centuries, published in 2007 by Schiffer Books.


Irwin Richman, Bainbridge, Lancaster County, received his B.A. in history at the age of twenty in 1957 from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He served as a historian for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and was the first curator of science, history, industry, and technology when PHMC opened the new William Penn Memorial Museum (now The State Museum of Pennsylvania) in 1965. Three years later he joined the Pennsylvania State University’s Capitol Campus (now Penn State Harrisburg), where he taught until 2003. The author earned a certificate in ornamental plants from Longwood Gardens. He has written nearly two hundred articles and more than two dozen books.