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Dreaming of Seeds!

winter at Living History Farms

There is still snow in Iowa. The ground is frozen. But spring will be here soon and it is time to plan the fields and gardens at the museum!

field at Living History Farms

Lots of catalogs are coming in the mail with pictures of vegetables and flowers. These catalogs sell seeds and plants.

Our museum workers can also use their computers to search for seeds and plants. It is fun to look at the photos and think of all the wonderful things we can grow when it gets warmer.

seed catalog

What are your favorite vegetables and flowers? Do you grow any of these in a garden at your house?

How did the people who lived in Iowa a long time ago choose seeds for their gardens and fields? How about a pioneer farmer living in a log house in 1850? Here is one of our farmers working in the 1850 pioneer farm garden. Where would the seeds come from?

1850 Pioneer Farm garden

Iowa’s pioneers often brought seeds with them when they moved here. They could save some of the seeds from their first crops in Iowa to plant new crops the next year. If they lived close enough to a small town, the pioneer might also buy seeds at a General Store.

General Store

Even in 1850, a farmer could order seeds in the mail! The seed company would send the seeds to the closest post office. The farmer had to travel to the town’s post office to get his package. Iowa farmers continued to buy seeds in small towns and through the mail. Railroads made getting the seeds to Iowa easier. Flowers and plants for gardens got fancier and came from farther and farther away. Flynn summer kitchen garden

Our museum wants to make sure our farms plant the kinds of vegetables and flowers people did a long time ago. We use the lists in old seed catalogs and farm diaries to know what to plant.Landreth's Seed Catalog

The Landreth Seed Company is one of the oldest in America. You can learn more about their company here. Seed catalogs today are filled with color photographs of plants and flowers. A long time ago, the catalogs might not have any pictures, just words talking about the plant. Look at this very old catalog.  It doesn’t have any pictures at all! By the 1890s, some catalogs had drawings of the plant, sometimes in color and sometimes not. Like this one and this one. These catalogs were saved by National Agricultural Library at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Even without pictures, farmers in the past got excited about planning their gardens in February and March. It made that last bit of winter go faster! We still get excited at this time of year. It is fun to dream about warm spring weather and planting seeds!

Pioneer Farm garden

If you are getting tired of winter, plan an imaginary garden with us! Take a piece of paper and crayons and draw a big circle or square. It can be as big or small as you want it to be! What kinds of vegetables do you like? How many would you plant?


Draw them in your circle or square. Maybe your garden has flowers instead . . . what colors would they be?  Tangen Flower Garden

At Living History Farms, we save some of our seeds from year to year. We also buy our seeds from companies that grow very old kinds of vegetables. If you would like to browse a seed catalog like we do, check out this link. It might help you dream up new things for your imaginary garden plan!

Do you still need some ideas? Here is a blank plan of the garden at the 1850 Pioneer farm. Each rectangle and circle is a planting bed in the garden.


And here is a list of some of the things we plant there! Sometimes the types of vegetables have really funny names! Can you draw the plants on a garden map?

Scarlet Runner Beans
Red Core Carrot
Cayenne Hot Peppers
Bird Peppers
White Icicle Radish
Green Oakleaf Lettuce
Large Red Tomatoes
Dwarf Gray Sugar Peas
White Vienna Kohlrabi
Riesentraub Tomatoes
Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage
Flat Dutch Cabbage
Soldier Dry Beans
Lazy Wife Beans
Bull Nose Peppers
Golden Beets
Green Nutmeg Melon
Missouri Gold Muskmelon
Silver Rose Garlic
Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon
White Patty Pan Squash
Russian Cucumber
Rutabaga Red Onions
Early Blood Turnips
Mangle wurzel Beets

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