Monday, April 22, 2013

On Heirlooms

My husband and I tend to favor heirloom vegetables over hybrids in our garden for many reasons. Here are a few:

1. You can save the seeds. If you have the time and know how, you will be able to save some seeds from this year's crop to use in next year's garden. A nice perk is the fact that you will be saving a little money. If you save the seeds of a hybrid plant and plant them in your garden, you never know what you will end up with as it won't grow true to type.

2. Heirlooms seeds have stories that have been passed down from year to year, generation after generation. This fascinates me. I love the names of all of my heirloom tomatoes and am curious to know more about their origin. I recently read Janisse Ray's book, The Seed Underground. It's a great place to learn more about heirlooms and the people in this country who are ensuring that they still exist in the world.

3. Taste. You'll hear this over and over again. Heirlooms still exist because people like how they taste. They were never bred to look beautiful (though some still are) or to be shipped long distances. The main reason for their existence is that they are delicious.

A few places to find heirloom seeds:
Seed Savers Exchange
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Maybe there's even a seed company in your town that sells heirloom seeds, and you just don't know about them yet. My tiny town has a seed company with wonderful heirloom varieties. Do some research! Join a seed saving group. Start a seed saving group. Host an heirloom seed swap. Help preserve seed diversity by planting many heirlooms in your own garden.

Do you grow heirloom vegetables? Do you save seeds? Do you have any seeds that have been saved by your family members and passed down to you? I'd love to hear about it.


  1. I've known about Seed Savers Exchange for years because I went to a Greg Brown concert on the farm about ten years ago but it wasn't until I recently read Diane Ott Whealy's book, Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver, that I finally decided to become a member. They do have a seed catalog but when you become a member of the group, you get the yearbook which is a compendium of 694 growers that have saved their own seeds and are willing to share over 12,000 unique varieties. It kind of blew my mind and I am so excited for the potential in my garden. I am ready to step up my seed saving efforts!

  2. lee: so exciting. we have a grower here offering a seed saving course that i'm going to take this summer. perhaps i'll report back with some tips.

  3. I got almost all my seeds from Baker Creek this year and although it is a bit pricier to begin with, it will save us so much money in the long run, as we can save the seeds. Plus, my understanding is that the plants will start to adapt a bit to our micro-climate. And, we can stay away from those pesky gmos. I did also find a little store that sells some seeds from a local place, so I have a few of those as well.

  4. Interesting, I didn't realize Janisse Ray had some other books. I read her Ecology of a Cracker Childhood two springs ago and it was great, a little southeastern forest ecology mixed with stories from her childhood.

    I'll have to check out her seed book too.

  5. I favor heirlooms as well and plant almost exclusively heirloom seeds. Seed saving is something I do a little more of each year, learning as I go. It's incredibly satisfying to plant seeds you have grown and saved! I love stories of seeds that have been in a family for generations.

  6. And Shari, I do hope you will report back about that course!

  7. Hi Shari,

    Thank you for mentioning Janisse Ray's book on seeds. I can't wait to read it!
    Growing up, certain plants my mother had were considered family heirlooms: a climbing rose that grew in my great-grandmother's yard, a turquoise vine (do you know these? they're beautiful) an elderly friend had shared a cutting from, a tomato from my grandparents... I love the idea of keeping living plants and/or seeds going across generations. I cannot wait to have my own little garden plot (soon), so I can carry on these traditions myself.

  8. Yes we do save seeds and we swap them !
    Wanna join our swap community ?
    Visit, and tell me what you think !