When it is time to pick out the seeds for your garden in the early spring, you will have to make some choices. Your first choice is going to be deciding what you want to grow. This is a fun and exciting time. Your decision may be influenced by the size of your garden plot and the region you live. This can limit your options, but you will discover there are still a great deal of possibilities.
It is exciting to think about plucking fresh vegetables from your plants in a couple of months. The process of starting seeds and nurturing them into healthy plants that blossom and produce food is thrilling. It connects you to the earth and your family. Knowing you are giving your family healthy food that you grew in your won back yard is an extremely rewarding experience. You want to make sure you choose veggies your family will enjoy. You may also be growing extra so you can preserve the produce to use during the winter. Pulling out a can of corn you preserved is another source of pride. For some, it may be a bit nostalgic as they remember their mother and grandmother doing the very same thing.
Another choice you must make when you are picking your seeds is whether to use heirloom seeds or hybrid seeds. There is a huge difference. The seed packets you tend to find at your local home improvement store or the big box store are hybrid seeds. Now, this isn’t to say you cannot find some heirloom seeds mixed on the display, but they are rare and the term “heirloom” is often loosely used. Your best choice for finding heirloom seeds is online from a reputable dealer. If you have never heard about heirloom seeds, you are in for a real treat.
Why should you buy heirloom versus hybrid seeds? There are multiple reasons.
Heirloom vegetables taste better. It is as simple as that. A tomato from an heirloom plant is going to have more flavor. People who have tasted an heirloom tomato variety will tell you there is something inherently different about the flavor. It gives you a burst in your mouth that makes your taste buds sing.
Canning heirloom tomatoes is going to make for a delicious spaghetti sauce full of flavor. Heirloom varieties are juicier and plumper. You will know the difference when you get that little zing of flavor that perks up your senses.
The enhanced flavor may also be attributed to the food being left to ripen on the vine instead of in a hot house before it is sold to consumers. Another reason for the improved taste is the fact that many heirloom gardeners use little to no chemicals in their garden. They tend to be organic, which leaves the plants to bloom and develop as they were intended.
Tomatoes that you buy in the supermarket are hybrids that have been designed to mass produce, perfect fruit every time. Unfortunately, the perfect fruit doesn’t always taste great. Have you ever sliced up a perfectly round, firm and all around red tomato and put it on your sandwich only to discover there is almost no flavor? There is a scientific reason for that. When a single plant is loaded with fruit, it can’t put the energy into each of the fruits. It is like trying to feed 20 people with a single helping of food. There isn’t enough to go around and people are going to be left hungry or in the case of a plant, the fruit is going to be bland. It is disappointing, but you won’t get that from an heirloom variety. They are not going to yield a huge harvest, but each fruit you pick is going to be juicy and packed with flavor.
Open pollination is another leading reason to choose heirloom seeds. Instead of returning to the store every year and buying new seed packs and guessing what you may like or what you grew last year, you harvest seeds from the plants you grow each year. When you are slicing that juicy tomato and some of the seeds spill out, save them. Don’t wash them down the sink or toss them in the trash.
Seeds from heirloom vegetables can be properly dried and stored and planted the following year. You will always have a supply of seeds when you use heirloom varieties. The hybrid vegetable seed packs are close pollinated, which means a person purposely pollinated the plants to create another plant with qualities of the first 2 plants. It is a hybrid by definition. Open pollinated plants are done so by nature, whether it is bees, birds or the wind. It is a natural process and doesn’t involve any human intervention or messing with the DNA of a plant’s makeup. These are referred to as GMOs or genetically modified plants. These are a huge concern for many people who prefer to let nature be the master.
When you buy a tomato from the store and you attempt to save the seeds to plant, you are going to be disappointed. The seeds will likely not sprout. If they do sprout, you may end up with a plant that doesn’t fruit. If, by some chance the plant does flower and produce some kind of fruit, it is not going to be the same as what you originally started with. Hybrid seeds are close pollinated, which means you will need to buy new seed packs every year.
3-Less Expensive in the Long Run
Heirloom seeds are cost-effective. We just covered the fact that you can save seeds from the fruits you harvest from an heirloom plant. This means you won’t technically need to buy seeds ever again, assuming you only want the same plants for years to come. You can save yourself a great deal of money by investing in heirloom seeds up front and learning how to harvest the seeds and store them in your own personal seed bank. Now, it would be unfair not to point out that heirloom seeds do cost a little more up front. The price difference can be as little as a dollar, but when you factor in the fact you will not need to buy that particular variety of seed again, it makes up for the higher initial cost.
As you build up your seed bank, you can trade with other heirloom seed enthusiasts to get new seeds. You won’t have to spend another penny on seeds once you get your seed bank established. This is also a great way to connect with other enthusiasts and learn about some of the varieties they have had success with in your region.
Fruit from heirloom plants are not all the same. This may not seem like a big deal, but wouldn’t you rather have fresh tomatoes for several weeks at a time, rather than a whole bag of tomatoes plucked on the same day? You would have to eat them in a hurry or spend the day preserving them and missing out on eating them fresh off the vine.
Hybrids are modified to grow and ripen on a schedule. This means all of the fruit on a single plant are going to be ready to harvest within a couple days of each other. That is what the plant is designed to do. If you planted a whole row of tomato plants from hybrid seeds, you are going to be inundated with tomatoes that week and have nothing for the rest of the season.
Heirloom varieties keep to their own schedule. They grow and ripen at different times. You may get to pluck tomatoes from the vine for several weeks. The tomatoes will also be shaped a little different. All heirloom variety plants will produce unique fruits and vegetables that have their own unique shapes and colors. There is nothing uniform about an heirloom plant’s produce. Heirlooms do not produce cookie cutter produce. Hybrids are bred to do just that. When you go to the grocery store and you see the produce section filled with tomatoes, they tend to look identical in size and color. It isn’t natural. That is the magic of hybrids.
Heirlooms have a rich history. This is important to a lot of people. It is mind-blowing to think you could be eating the same variety of tomato as your great, great grandparents enjoyed over a hundred years ago. There is something to be said about eating vegetables that were essentially fathered by the heirloom seeds that have been passed down for decades, centuries in some cases.
When you research some of the varieties, you will discover they can be traced back more than 60 years. By definition, most heirloom plants were grown before WWII. History cannot be wrong. If the seeds have been used to grow food for our ancestors for generations, there must be something great about them.
The seeds have been harvested and passed down because they produced fruit that was delicious and worth bragging about. Many of us have that grandparent that was famous for growing the best cucumbers or the sweetest watermelons back in their day. Isn’t it amazing to think you can grow the same veggies that you remember eating when you visited as a child? Heirloom seeds connect us to our past. There is a certain romance with history that cannot be ignored when you pick up a pack of heirloom seeds that you will never get when you use hybrid seeds that are mass produced.
Heirlooms are area specific. If you live in the same area as your parents, grandparents or friend of the family who has been successfully growing an heirloom variety for years, you know you are going to have good luck growing it in your own backyard. Gardeners know seeds can be finicky. They tend to prefer a certain type of soil, time in the sun and water schedules. If you don’t know the particulars of a certain plant, you are not going to be successful.
It can be extremely frustrating to plant a hundred seeds and only a few produce plants that actually give you some kind of food to eat. It isn’t you. It is where you live in most cases. When you buy seeds at the store, they are the same seeds that are sold to the guy in northern Maine and the guy in southwest Arizona. Obviously, those are two very different climates with different growing seasons, soil and water. Somebody is going to have a huge struggle getting their plants to blossom. Heirlooms are typically available by region. Some varieties are going to do better in the cooler Maine climate and will scorch in the hot Arizona sun.
Heirlooms will adapt overtime, on their own. They will become hardier and more disease resistant. Think of an adult’s immune system compared to an infant. An infant hasn’t been exposed to nearly as many germs and viruses as an adult. Their immune system is going to be much weaker than that of an adult who has been exposed, sickened and recovered from a particular germ. They build up a natural immunity to certain viruses. Heirloom plants are similar. The parent plant is exposed to certain diseases, but manages to overcome and become a little hardier. The plant produces fruit that contains seeds that have that little bit of “immunity.” The new plants produced from those seeds are going to be a little more tolerant and will grow even hardier.
You want to be successful and your chances of doing so are dramatically increased when you choose heirloom seeds that have been successfully grown in your region for decades. If you didn’t have great success with one heirloom tomato variety, but did with another, that is the plant you want to save seeds from and grow the following year. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get it figured out, you are golden.
7-Increased Nutritional Value
Heirloom varieties tend to be more nutritious than there hybrid counterparts. All of the juicy goodness you get in an heirloom vegetable is going to be packed with nutrition. Tomatoes that are ripened on the vine are going to be more nutritious than tomatoes bought at a grocery store that were picked before they were ripe in order to extend their shelf life. You are also getting the same nutrition that has been passed along through the seeds and not modified in any way.
Earlier we mentioned the idea of 20 people sharing a plate of food. Those people are going to be hungry and lack nutrition, which is the same scenario for the fruit produced from plants that are simply stretched too thin. If the plant is overburdened with fruits, it cannot push the nutrients into the fruit. You are getting a very bland bit of produce lacking in flavor and nutrition.
Heirlooms offer variety on the dinner table. If you go to the produce section of your grocery store, you will see very little variety. The choices are limited to a couple varieties (if that for some veggies). You won’t see some of the different looking vegetables that are produced from heirloom seeds. Blue radishes or yellow tomatoes are not appealing to the average consumer because they have been trained to only see radishes and tomatoes as red. People who have never seen vegetables that look different than the typical normal are missing out.
You can increase the diversity of your meals by choosing to go with heirlooms. You don’t have to eat the same old boring carrots or the typical radish. You can change it up with some Cosmic Purple carrots or Black Incan corn. It is a fun to try new foods and you will appreciate the variety it brings instead of relying on the same old thing, time after time. It gives you flexibility in the kitchen and can completely transform a boring dish into one that makes your mouth water.
It’s good for the environment in a way. If you are buying new seed packs every year, you are buying packaging. Seeds take up very little room, but are sold in packages that are much bigger than they need to be. It isn’t a huge deal, but saving a few trees here and there is important. Every little bit helps. You won’t need the bag from the store and you won’t have to drive to the store to buy the seeds. It seems very minor, but you are doing a little something to make a difference. When you factor in the fact you won’t ever buy seed packs at the store again, it is a little easier to see the difference you can make.
10-Connection to People
You will have a connection to your ancestors and will develop a connection with friends, family and neighbors. Once you start sharing your produce with people or showing up to barbecues and family picnics with dishes made with the produce you have grown, you are going to become very popular. They are going to ask you what you used to make the dish so fabulous. The secret will of course be your heirloom vegetables. When they ask where you got the seeds, you can offer to give them a few to get them started growing their own heirloom plants. You will have that connection. Think of it as a ripple effect. When they start taking the veggies they grew to their gatherings, it will spawn the same response. You will have started an heirloom vegetable revolution!
You will be more self-sustainable when you grow plants that you can harvest seeds to use for new plants. Imagine a world where buying new seeds every year becomes extremely difficult or impossible. Maybe your budget is stretched too thin next spring to buy new seeds and you can’t start a garden.
There is also the possibility of a natural disaster or some other major event that interrupts the food supply chain and the way we normally go about doing things. An economic collapse would make it extremely difficult or impossible to buy food, but if you could grow your own, you would be okay.
When you use heirloom seeds today and start building up your personal seed bank, you are setting yourself up to be more self-sustainable. Living a self-sustainable lifestyle means you rely less on others, including businesses and government aid, and rely more on yourself to fulfill your needs. That means putting food on the table that you have grown yourself.
12-Preserve a Piece of History
Preserve history by growing plants that are nearly extinct. It is truly amazing that many of the heirloom seeds that are available today have been around since before World War II. Unfortunately, there are plenty of heirloom plants that are on their way out. Seed companies are not growing them to harvest new seeds because the plants are not good sellers. There are some varieties that are difficult to grow and require a special touch. If the plants all die before the seeds can be harvested, it will be the end of a line. It is hard to imagine never seeing or tasting a particular vegetable again.
Once the last heirloom seed is gone, it is gone for good. The seeds that are in circulation have been passed down for generations. The plants you grow and the seeds you harvest can be passed down to your children. This ensures they will always have a little taste of their childhood and they can share it with their own children.
Heirloom seeds are a part of our past and give us a guarantee of a sustainable future. These are just some of the reasons you may want to grow them. Some people simply like the idea of growing more natural foods that haven’t been engineered to be the perfect color or the perfect size. It is certainly a lot about personal preference. When you grow heirloom plants, you get a sense of pride. You are doing something that promotes self-sustainability and keeping history alive. The rewards of delicious vegetables and gorgeous flowers is icing on top of the proverbial cake.