Heirloom Seeds and Why You Should Use Them

 In Food supply, Intentions
Seeds, The Great Gathering

Agribusinesses have poured millions of dollars into creating seed varieties that are more productive and more resistant to pests. These varieties are designed for large-scale, mostly mechanical farming and hold up well to the rigors of shipping around the world. With all that these fancy hybrid seeds have going for them, why would a gardener choose heirloom, non-hybrid varieties?

What is an Heirloom Vegetable?

Before you learn about the advantages of heirloom vegetables, it is helpful to understand exactly what an heirloom vegetable is. Heirloom seeds are vegetables that have been grown for at least three generations, but often they are centuries old. They have been selected for their taste and resistance to pests and diseases. Most importantly, heirloom plants are open-pollinated. This means that if you save the seeds of an heirloom plant that was pollinated by the same type of heirloom plant, those seeds will produce vegetables that are identical to the parent plants.

Hybrid seeds are bred from two different parent plants. If you save the seed from a hybrid tomato, there is no telling what kind of tomato will grow from your seeds. Additionally, seed suppliers offer genetically modified plant seeds. These seeds have been scientifically engineered to do all kinds of crazy things, including being resistant to common herbicides, like Roundup. This means that farmers can spray whole fields of veggies with these dangerous, weed-killing chemicals without killing the plants. This also means that people who consume these vegetables are eating pesticide residues!

Why Grow an Heirloom?
There are many benefits to choosing heirloom varieties of vegetables. While these plants are not as profitable as many commercial types, they are perfect for backyard gardeners for several reasons.

1. You can save the seed year after year.
Each year, gardeners who use hybrid seeds have to buy new seeds. Farmers who use genetically modified seed are prohibited by law from saving seeds for next year’s planting. However, heirloom seeds can be saved from one year to the next, provided you do not plant other varieties close together.

2. You can choose varieties that are perfect for your climate.
Heirloom seeds are available for an assortment of climatic conditions. If you live outside of the typical growing area for a certain veggie, using an heirloom may make that vegetable accessible to you.

3. Heirlooms have the ability to adapt to local conditions.
Heirloom veggies are unique in that they can adapt over the years to soil types, pests, and diseases. If you plant an heirloom one year and it struggles, don’t give up. Just save the seeds and try again next year. Chances are, the heirloom will be better the next year and even more improved the third season.

4. Heirlooms have a wider variety of colors, flavors, and textures than many other types of veggies.
Most people do not realize the vast array of flavors and textures in which many veggies are available. In grocery stores, there are usually only a few types of tomatoes, peppers, or green beans. By growing heirloom veggies, you can broaden your palate with a wider diversity of vegetable types.

References:
Heirloom Plants
Why Heirloom Seeds Matter

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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