What is the advantage of heirloom plants?

Relics are guaranteed non-GMO, so by definition, heirloom seeds can't be genetically modified. You also don't have to worry about buying GM seeds if you prefer to avoid them, because they're only available to commercial farmers, not home gardeners. Heirloom seeds give you the freedom to save seeds, grow new varieties and promote plant diversity. Diversity is important because it allows plants to adapt continuously to changing environmental conditions and human needs.

Plants are allowed to adapt to different climates and develop resistance to local pests and diseases when there are many varieties. The reasons to grow traditional vegetables, herbs and flowers are practical, aesthetic and heritage. The practical reasons are easy to list: local resistance, resistance to diseases and pests developed over several years, the ability to grow and harvest our own seed. Another practical advantage of heirloom is its adaptability to climatic and soil conditions.

Unlike hybrids, which are genetically engineered to produce a specific product under a wide range of growing conditions, often favoring qualities such as size, shippability, shelf life and appearance over flavor, relics have adapted to growing conditions and have developed resistance to diseases for a long period of time. These are traits that organic gardeners trust. And while disease resistance can be transformed into a hybrid crop, it often comes at the expense of overall quality. The same ideas are behind the seeds of relics.

For a seed to be considered a relic, it must not be less than 50 years old. However, when you allow a plant to grow at a slower rate and produce sporadically, the fruits of the plant have the opportunity to create more nutrients that appear in the foods we eat. We connect with at least 3 generations, and sometimes up to 3 or more centuries, of sustainable planting and gardening through traditional seeds. Experts vary in their definition of traditional vegetables, but will usually agree that the seeds are at least 50 years old.

However, you can grow traditional plants and save the seeds only from those plants that were best maintained against pests and the weather. All non-GMO relic garden seeds you'll find in the box stores offered by Planet Natural are untreated, non-GMO and are NOT purchased from Monsanto owned Seminis. Most heirloom seeds are kept year after year in home gardens, and families or communities can trace the variety decades, if not centuries. Creating a heirloom that fits your particular garden perfectly can take years to save seeds and plant them.

As the number of varieties offered by commercial seed companies shrinks, it's encouraging to know that relics are becoming as popular as they were in the Radiator Charlie days. Sustainability champions like relics because, once they have obtained a specific seed, they can grow a constant supply in their own gardens year after year without having to buy another seed. Some people claim that heirloom plants are those that were introduced before 1951, while others claim that heirloom varieties are those that were introduced before the 1920s. Much sweeter, juicier and more flavorful than a commercially grown tomato, traditional homegrown tomato seeds restore one of the greatest pleasures of summer.

It used to be the case that purchasing heirloom seeds meant that you had to get someone to pass them to you. When you select and save seeds from the most successful traditional vegetables in your garden, the more reliable those vegetables will be year after year. Hybrid seeds are created by crossing two selected varieties, sometimes resulting in vigorous plants that outperform relics. Since traditional vegetables are open pollinated by wind and bees, this means you can save the seeds for planting from year to year and you will get the same vegetable quality.


Erika Shipley
Erika Shipley

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