In a time when saving money and being healthy are of equal importance, more and more people are returning to their own gardens to grow their food. However, once the soil has been turned and prepared there are a myriad of often confusing choices when it comes to varieties and seeds. While modern hybrid varieties are faster growing and often seen as less expensive, the benefits of heirloom seeds can be seen in the growing trend toward its use.
What are heirloom seeds?
Heirloom seeds are defined as coming from an old or original cultivar and which growers continue to maintain. For many organic gardeners, the ultimate goal is to have a truly unmodified plant that has genetically withstood generations of cultivation. For others, it’s the novelty of experiencing colors, flavors, and types of plants we are no longer accustomed to.
Tasting the difference
How often have you tasted an apple or a tomato from a supermarket and complained about the lack of flavor? The ability of modern varietals to withstand long term storage often comes at the cost of flavor, texture, and scent. Heirloom seeds generally give rise to full flavored fruit that are intended to be eaten (or preserved) when they are at their best.
Collecting and using heirloom seeds is a very simple way to preserve our environmental history. As our society becomes more and more technologically driven and the borders between countries disappear, the plants our ancestors grew are beginning to disappear as well. Preserving the plants – both edible and non-edible – of our past help us to ensure our future.
Pleasure of produce
One of the greatest benefits of heirloom seeds, is perhaps one of the least recognized. There is a lot of pleasure to be derived from a hobby that involves such hands-on involvement. Once you have grown and consumed the vegetable – or enjoyed the flower – you should preserve the seeds for the next season.
Many gardeners split their seeds into two lots. One group of seeds is intended for pure preservation – the idea is to not allow any type of cross pollination in order to retain the strains historical genetics. The other group are planted outside and allowed to cross pollinate naturally via birds, insects and wind. Considered natural modification, this can result in new, hardier strains while retaining the plant’s integrity.
Some gardeners, new to heirloom seeds, complain about the lack of hardiness in the resulting plants. More often than not, however, the problem revolves around suitability in the location. If a plant does not grow ‘naturally’ in your area, perhaps it is the climate and soil that are the problem and not the seeds. After all, in natural circumstances, you would not try to grow a pineapple in Antarctica.
Most gardeners, however, find the benefits of heirloom seeds far outweigh the challenges. Moreover, once they realize purple carrots and yellow tomatoes are not only beautiful, but delicious, they are no longer satisfied with the offerings in their local supermarket.