Seed Savers Exchange’s Historic Apple Orchard

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Did you know that only 15 varieties make up more than 90 percent of the apple market in the US today? Did you know that in the Historic Orchard at Seed Savers Exchange, we are caring for over 1,200 unique varieties?! It’s true — we are stewarding an amazing and rare collection, and it needs your help.

The land that is now Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) was purchased in 1986. Visioning future use of the rugged landscape that included spring-fed trout streams, limestone bluffs, sweeping valleys and rolling hills, SSE co-founder Kent Whealy wrote

“To the east is a 25-acre upper field that will eventually be developed into orchards of historic apples.”

It took a few years to develop plans for the new orchard, collect the historic varieties, and graft the apple trees, but in 1989 the Historic Orchard was established with 277 varieties of historic heirloom apple trees. Over time, more and more historic apple varieties came into the collection, including apples intended for cider, baking, frying, long-term storage — and for fresh eating!

With the oldest trees declining in vitality and most of the younger trees sitting in nursery beds where they are not yet able to thrive, this nationally significant collection is in critical need of re-generation and revitalization.

This incredible collection of American pomological history delights over 12,000 visitors a year, and provides apples for children to eat and for award winning ciders! But it needs your help to ensure its continued glory as we move into the future.

Your support of this effort means that Seed Savers Exchange will have the resources to steward and manage this rare and valuable orchard well into the future. Because of you, over 1,200 diverse 19th century varieties of apples will be here for all of us to share and enjoy today, and the rich beauty and taste of America’s apple heritage will be here for generations to come.

Historic Apple Cider

The GlintCap Gold Medal was recently awarded for SS Heritage, a cider made by No. 12 Cider House in Minneapolis from rare varieties harvested last fall (2018) from Seed Savers Exchange’s Historic Orchard. The cider house made one barrel, and the owners are donating a portion of the sales to Seed Savers Exchange to kick off our Historic Orchard Campaign.


With your support, we have an opportunity to utilize current best practices like grafting onto dwarf stock and trellising to ensure the long term security and preservation of this amazing diversity we steward. The biodiversity in the Historic Orchard is hard to find anywhere else, and it will take $75,000 to make the initial two years of the Historic Orchard Revitalization a reality. We invite you to be part of preserving this incredible historical and agricultural resource.

David Sliwa, our first Orchard Manager, wrote:

“The primary purpose of the Historic Apple Orchard is to serve as a living museum. As such, it will be one of the few extensive apple collections easily accessible to the public. SSE’s orchard will display a broad range of apple cultivars as representatives of the diverse flavors, textures, colors, shapes, sizes, seasons and uses manifested in this fruit.”

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.