Do heirloom seeds grow better?

Growing heirloom seeds in your garden can literally bring the past to life. These seeds have been stored and cultivated for decades or even centuries, so you could grow the same variety of plant that Thomas Jefferson had in his garden more than 200 years ago. While you may have heard of traditional tomatoes or other vegetables, you may not know that you can find seeds for traditional varieties of many other plants, such as herbs and flowering annuals. Here's a look at what exactly heirloom seeds are and five reasons they deserve a place in your garden.

Gardeners often ask me if hybrid seeds are similar to transgenic seeds, and while they are a product of reproduction, they have not been genetically modified. It can take years and thousands of failed attempts to produce a new hybrid variety, so seeds are often more expensive than traditional seeds. Unlike relics that are open pollinated, saving the seeds of hybrids does not reliably produce plants true to type. That means you need to buy new seeds for hybrid varieties every year.

In general, traditional vegetables offer good flavor. Taste is subjective, but older varieties were generally grown for local consumption and for fresh consumption, says Shawn Wright, a horticultural specialist at the University of Kentucky. However, many of the new hybrid varieties being developed today are grown to ensure shipping quality, yield, and disease resistance, so taste is not always the top priority. Basically, wind, insects and nature are what pollinate and the seeds of these plants will produce plants that are like their mother plants.

It is said that they “really reproduce. Enter any agricultural market and you'll see a wide range of traditional vegetables for sale, often at a higher price than their hybrid cousins (especially when it comes to traditional tomatoes). Remember that heirloom seeds have not been altered to be disease resistant or cross-pollinated for different growth characteristics. Relics come from “sports, time adaptation, or hybridization, and those that are considered relics or open pollinated plants are those that reproduce for at least 8 generations.

I also like to offer a lot of variety to my farmers' market customers and discover that heirloom seeds offer that variety. Take a look, for example, at different seed catalogs to compare the vibrant colors, random shapes and different sizes of the many traditional tomato varieties available. I don't want to get to the conspiracy theory, but there are only a couple of huge companies that produce ALL the seeds in those little packages to plant (they've been genetically altered while the relics remain pure). It makes those heirloom seeds more special when you know the story and the stories that come with them.

If you store the seeds properly, you won't need to buy seeds until you want to try something new. When reading heirloom seed catalogs, you will often see stories about individual varieties, their approximate age, and how they were discovered. Heirloom seeds come from open-pollinated plants that transmit similar characteristics and traits from the parent plant to the daughter plant. MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER, MY GRANDFATHER, MY FATHER AND NOW I, WE HAVE BEEN USING HEIRLOOM SEEDS, THEY NEVER SPENT MONEY ON SEEDS AND NEITHER HAVE I.

The independent-minded gardener may not care if a plant has existed for a century, but he often cares that the plant reproduces true to type and that, by saving the seeds, one can plan a sustainable garden from year to year, regardless of the nation's transportation infrastructure and from commercial seed sources. One of the great advantages of growing traditional vegetables in your garden is that when you save the seeds of these plants, you get plants that are faithful to the mother plant. .

Erika Shipley
Erika Shipley

Subtly charming beer nerd. Extreme internet specialist. Devoted travel junkie. Proud coffee maven. Friendly problem solver.