Why You Should Plant Heirloom Vegetables in Your Garden
If you have been raising vegetables in your garden for any length of time – and even if you are a novice gardener – you may have heard of heirloom vegetables. But what are they? Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties of some of your favorite plants, and they have been around for many years. Some varieties are hundreds of years old
• Heirloom Seed – is the plant heritage. They generally have been passed down from generation to generation (thought of as 50+ years old). An heirloom variety is open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms varieties. (For more on the different types of plants and seeds, read here.
• Why would you want heirloom plants in your garden? There are many benefits to growing heirlooms varieties. Long before the industrial farming that occurs now, there were many different types of tomatoes, corn, raidshes, beans, carrots, peas, etc., that were field grown for their flavor instead of their ability to be harvested at the same time and withstand packing and shipping stress. If you look at today’s seed catalogs, plants are engineered for a specific purpose and many people feel the taste has been engineers out of the new plants.
• Heirloom varieties developed naturally over decades or centuries into flavorful and colorful fruits and vegetables. These varieties retained their inherent flavors, nutritional value, and because they were grown locally, they even adapted to have some pest resistance. They are open-pollinated, which means that they are naturally pollinated by nature, and the resulting seeds will be true to the original plant.
• Growing heirloom varieties also allows you to save seed from this year’s crop to plant next year. This is different than the hybrid varieties you purchase from seed companies because they are crossbred and modified to the point that if you saved seed, the plants may not germinate. Keeping heirloom seeds for next year’s garden can also save quite a bit of money from year to year when you grow your garden seedlings indoors for spring planting.
• Using the seed saving strategy, you can develop your own local strain of plant that has adapted to your environment. Select the seeds from plants that have performed the best each year; eventually you will have the strain that works best for your needs.
• Heirlooms varieties have an amazing selection of colors and flavors. Where today’s hybrids may be a one-stop shop vegetable, older heirloom varieties tend to have a single use, and are much more flavorful. There are hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties in every size and color you can imagine, from bright yellow to purple (and striped!), yet they all have one characteristic in common; they all have a wonderful flavor!! Imagine your summer salad with a myriad of brightly colored tomatoes in the bowl, brimming with flavor!
• Many heirloom seed varieties have been passed down in families just as an antiques or piece of jewelry might be. Most have a story about how they arrived in the United States, and even how they arrived in your hands. You are holding a piece of history with these seeds. Spend time to learn a little bit about the seeds you choose. It will make your garden, and gardening in general more interesting.
• I will say that there are negatives to heirloom seeds too. Hybrids are specifically engineered to be disease resistant, a few years ago blight took such a toll on my heirloom tomatoes that I had to switch to a hybrid tomato because the variety was heartier. Last year, we went with cherry tomatoes. I do track blight using the blight tracker, and until it settles down in New York State, I will be buying both hyrid and heirloom tomatoes (so we definitely have some tomato crop).
• Where do you find Heirloom Seeds for your garden?
• Although you can find non-hybrids on seed stands in your local garden center, they are not always labeled as such. Ask at your local Garden Nursery!! You can also get expert advice from the Master Gardener on hand to help you determine what fruits, vegetables, and herbs will grow best in your climate and local soil (once transferred).
• Your local Gardening Co-op There are not too many nationally, but they are growing.
• Ask at your local CSA! – there are specific seed and plant CSAs, as well as the everyday variety community supported agriculture farms that may/may not sell you seeds.
Where to buy heirloom seeds or plants online:
• Burpee – search for “heirloom” on the site.
• R.H. Shumway – specializes in heirloom varieties of vegetable and flowers. Many of the farm seed were developed in the 1940s and 1950s.
• Rare Seeds – they offer over 1850 fine varieties of seeds, some of which you have probably never heard of! They claim to be America’s top source for heirloom seeds.
• Seed Savers – a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom vegetables, flowers and fruits. They sell Non GMO Vegetable Seeds, Heirloom Vegetable Seeds, Organic Vegetable Seeds.
Seed Savers Exchange is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds.
They offer a membership, and membership benefits.
• Johnny’s Seeds – one of the nine original signers of the Safe Seed Pledge.
This is the safe seed pledge:
Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative,
We pledge that we do not knowingly buy, sell, or trade genetically-engineered seeds or plants.
The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically-engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately healthy people and communities.
Johnny’s Seeds sellsCertified Organic Seeds, F1 Hybrid Seeds (seeds that are a cross, not an open pollinated strain), Open-Pollinated & Heirloom Seeds.
Where is your favorite place to purchase heirloom plants and seeds?
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