The interest in gardening with heirloom seeds has increased dramatically in the last 10 years as many home gardeners have compared the many differences between heirloom, hybrid and GMO seed varieties.
Discriminate gardeners are more often planting with heirloom seeds for a variety of good reasons including taste and preservation of heritage.
“There’s been a lot of movement back to a lot of heirloom varieties because people want to preserve the agricultural heritage that is locked into those seeds and develop a lineage of place with each variety,” said Paul Betts of the High Mowing Seeds Organic Company in Vermont.
What are heirloom seeds?
An heirloom seed is one that has been passed down from one generation to the next because it was seen as having worth or deemed valuable to save. These types of seeds have been carefully grown and preserved in seed banks, some for several generations.
Many of these seeds have been passed down for 100 years or more. In fact, some have been historically verified as having a succession of 300 years. Generally, a seed is considered an heirloom only if it was grown before WWII.
They are open-pollinated seeds that have been saved from season to season from the original plants. The cycle of planting, harvesting, saving and replanting each year assures that the same variety of plant will regrow every year.
NOTE: Not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom, since there are new plant varieties being introduced that are not considered old enough to be heirloom seeds.
Why have so many heirloom seeds survived?
This type of seed is selected by growers usually because of the flavor, productivity, adaptability and/or hardiness.
Some growers have also been committed to protecting the seeds in order to preserve diversity in food crops so that we don’t lose valuable genetic variation we might need in the future.
Preserving heirloom food crops is especially an interest among preppers and survivalist today, who often purchase large heirloom seed banks to store in vaults for many years.
Some families have saved seed banks over the years of their own precious seeds that have been passed down to them by previous generations in order to preserve specific old plant varieties that would be lost.
The long development cycle of heirloom seeds has made them naturally strong and resilient. The weak or delicate varieties of a particular seed family has been culled out simply by the selection process of growers over the years. The strongest, tastiest seeds were chosen and the weak, fickle varieties were not
Are they organic seeds?
Organic growing simply means that a crop is grown in accord to a specific set of standards set by the USDA. It’s up to the grower whether their heirloom seeds are grown by organic or conventional standards. Most growers, however, who care enough to grow heirloom seeds, also value growing them organically.
The seeds are also neither hybrids nor genetically modified organisms since the DNA has not been altered from the original plant source.
What do gardeners love best about heirloom seeds?
Reasons for choosing these seeds include consistent quantity of production, uniformity of growth, natural disease resistance, superior nutritional value in old world plant sources and the desire to grow non-GMO foods…not to mention the intrigue of enjoying our rich gardening heritage of rich seed banks.
But the great taste of produce grown from heirloom seeds continues to trump all the other benefits.
Where to buy heirloom seeds?
There are many online stores that offer a variety of seed packs for herbs, vegetable and flowers of the heirloom variety.
You can even pick an heirloom survival seed bank to store for years as a precaution! It’s not that hard to get started growing an heirloom garden with a variety of plants for your family to enjoy.
If you love getting back to basics in your gardening, then planting with heirloom seeds is a great place to start that is fun and delicious.