While heirloom seeds have always been a popular staple in a prepper’s seed vault, they are becoming a popular seed option for even the casual gardener. As many people desire fresher, local produce and less reliance on grocery stores for the food on their dinner table, gardens are making a comeback. Within this home gardening revolution, heirloom seeds have played a crucial part, but it has created some confusion on what exactly an heirloom seed is.
What is an Heirloom Seed?
An heirloom seed, like its name suggests, is a seed that has been passed down from generation to generation. Prized for its flavor, productivity, hardiness, or adaptability, seeds are harvested each fall and replanted each spring in a cycle that assures the positive aspects of the crop live on, a process similar to the selective breeding of livestock.
Some heirloom seeds have a history up to 300 years or more and continue to improve upon what was the best crop available at the time. Due to their open pollination, which means that the seeds can be harvested with viability and replanted the next year, you can keep an heirloom brand going as long as you live.
Unfortunately there is some confusion about heirloom seeds because “heirloom” is used interchangeable by many as a seed that means organic and open pollinated. However, many big seed brands that sell both heirloom and hybrid or GMO seeds also label them as organic. They are seeds; they’re organic no matter how much fish DNA you splice in there. As for open pollination, even though it sounds like the same definition as heirlooms, other seed brands can be open pollinated as well. When choosing heirloom seeds, they need to specifically say heirloom and not anything else. There is no term that means “heirloom” other than “heirloom”.
Why Choose Heirloom Seeds?
A seed is a seed is a seed, right? Heirloom seeds have a great history, but what makes them more desirable than hybrid seeds?
- Flavor – One bite and you will know the difference between an heirloom-grown crop and any other seed. Why were the seeds kept in the first place? It could have been due to adaptability to the soil or it produced more than other seeds that year, but most heirlooms are created because they had excellent flavor. Whether it is that nutty flavor of the Native American squash or Grandma’s extra juicy marinara tomatoes, you can taste the difference between a crop grown with commercially grown seeds and an heirloom crop grown with love over generations.
- Cheaper – When flipping through a seed catalog or your local seed rack of choice, you will notice a strange difference in the price of it all. This can be due to the company providing the seed, but mostly it is because open pollinated seeds are cheaper than other alternatives because the seeds require virtually no work other than harvest and storage. If you harvest your own seeds, that seed catalog price drops down to zero after the first year.
- Staggered Ripening – If you have ever planted a garden with hybrid seeds, you will have a few solid months of growing and then suddenly, over the course of two weeks in the fall, everything will ripen at the same time. This means you are going to have to get super busy harvesting and finding a way to store it all or risk losing half your garden. Heirloom seeds aren’t cookie cutter seeds like hybrids. They will grow at their own pace and probably won’t ripen all at the same time. This means you have time to actually enjoy the vegetables from your garden and definitely have the time to can and pickle what is left over at your leisure.
- Locally Adapted – Part of the reason that heirloom crops have lasted for generations is because they are locally adaptable. While climate matters, you don’t need to exact climate or soil type where the heirloom originated. By choosing to harvest the seeds from the best adapted plant year after year, you are creating your own heirloom heritage that will thrive in the area.
- More Nutritious – Seed breeder and commercial growers prioritize two things when creating seeds. First, they want seeds to beeasy to ship without losing viability. Second, they create seeds in order to give the highest possible yield. At a certain point, growing food stopped being about flavor and nutrition, and began to be about producing the most amount of food. Studies have found that commercial farming is giving us more vegetables in the supermarket, but they are giving us significantly less nutrition. So while your hybrid seeds may be able to produce, your heirlooms will give you more flavorful and nutrition-rich vegetables.
The most wonderful thing about keeping heirloom seeds for your garden is that they can be whatever you want them to be. While it takes years of growing your own heirloom garden to create the perfect seed, you can create plants with features that you prize in them. By growing heirloom seeds, you will also have seeds ready to go when you need them. With the world as crazy as it is, growing your own food and keeping a stockpile of seeds is looking more integral to long-term survival if disaster strikes, but they are only one piece of the survival puzzle. Contact us today to learn how the Survival Life Association can help keep your family prepared.
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