What are heirloom seeds?
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, which means they ‘breed true’. When plants are open-pollinated, they can self-pollinate or are pollinated by natural means (insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanisms), resulting in seeds that are near identical to their parents.
Heirloom seeds are not genetically modified. In fact, heirloom seeds are genetically diverse which is crucial to maintaining genetic diversity of the world’s food crops. Every time an heirloom seed is planted, that seed stock is regenerated, maintaining that gene pool.
Heirloom varieties represent a reservoir of genetic possibilities. Every year seed companies add and drop mass produced varieties based on commercial demand. By growing heirlooms in your garden, you are helping to preserve heirloom, historic and rare seeds for future generations to enjoy.
Each heirloom has a story and there are many different stories of where they came from and those you grew them. Stories like ‘Chioggia’ Beetroot that originated around 1840 in the island town of the same name, just south of Venice and ‘Amish Deer Tongue’ lettuce that the Amish people grew in 1840.
Through a tiny seed you are connecting with gardeners from long ago. These seeds provide a link to our ancestors that we can pass down to future generations.
‘When we plant a seed, we create a direct link between our ancestral past and our potential future. The seed we plant has travelled around the world, from farmer to farmer, from native populations to traders and conquerors to royalty and eventually back to farmers’ - Ron Krupp
What are the benefits of heirloom vegetable seeds?
Heirloom seeds have been shared through generations so they are varieties that have been seen to be important and valuable enough to carefully grow, save and pass down. They have withstood the test of time and been worthy enough to save for flavour, colour, texture or productivity. These have been saved for decades, even centuries, because they have performed so well.
These seeds haven’t been saved so that the fruit or vegetable has long shelf life or quantity over quality, like many commercial varieties. They have been chosen because their exquisite flavours and interesting textures, their uniqueness or they are prized for their performance in the garden.
Heirlooms are diverse and there is so much variety- unique colours, textures, growth habits and tastes. It gives us, as gardeners, the experience of growing a diverse range to add interest and life not just in our gardens but also in our kitchens. Platters of tomatoes of different colours and flavours, the different shapes and textures of pumpkin, the vast array of weird and wonderful leafy greens- it all adds intrigue and diversity to life.
As heirlooms have been handed down from generation to generation, they have become adapted to specific places and climates and they can continue to adapt to different localities.
Being open pollinated means you can save your own seed and know that they will be closely identical to the mother plant. You can also choose to save those varieties that you particularly love and that grow well in your garden.
Recent research shows that in many cases newer vegetables and grains are significantly less nutritious than heirloom varieties. Commercial growers are concerned with high yields and good shelf life, often to the detriment of flavour and nutrients.
Our safe seed pledge
Seeds are the basis on which lives depend.
We promote their diversity and free availability.
We oppose genetically engineered seeds and fight all attempts to own or destroy our garden inheritance of open-pollinated heirloom seeds.
We select and trial food and flowers which are best suited for home gardeners rather than those grown for commercial mass production.