Heirloom seeds have many benefits

Spring is in the air, supposedly, and hopefully that means you’re getting ready to plant a new garden, or get out into your existing one and prep it for another abundant season. The seeds you choose are as important a factor as any other consideration in gardening. The benefits of heirloom seeds come down to three simple advantages: diversity, fertility and flavor. Anyone who has been planting heirloom fruits and vegetables can tell you that a new world awaits you in your heirloom garden… so juicy, so tasty and so healthy, you just may never want to eat anything else again.

The loss of diversity among our seeds is a serious concern for many scientists. The problems with planting one crop repeatedly can lead to many issues with the soil, major food blights and diminished resources for our complex nutritional needs. The hybrid seed may be altered to excel in one area, but be lacking in another, making the food less nutritious. Planting heirlooms, which are also called “open-pollinated seeds” keeps a variety of food types available, even if only in small family gardens. Seed diversity is important for future generations and helps counter all of the genetically modified and hybridized sterile seeds being used by big growers.

Unlike hybrid seeds, which often are not fertile, you can count on the heirloom seeds from your crops to be usable the following year. Essentially, once you’ve planted heirlooms, you do not need to buy new seeds. You can allow a few plants in your garden each season to “go to seed”, which means grow long enough to produce seed. Then, use the seeds from those plants to start up next year’s garden without having to buy new seeds. This is the method that’s been used for thousands of years – extending the life of especially nutritious and tasty plants for generations.

When it comes to flavor, many people say that little compares to heirloom foods. Those big, juicy tomatoes are worlds apart from the dry, mealy offerings in supermarkets. Peppers, melons, squash, lettuces and on, all have taste and flavor some people have never really experienced with food before. And when we eat foods that taste alive and vibrant, it can connect us more deeply to the many reasons that real food is real important. Imagine that your taste buds are computer programs and heirloom foods, well, they’re like system upgrades that when plugged into, restructure and make the whole operating system much more efficient. Those conventional hybrids? Well, they’re nothing but spam. 

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Photo: quinn.anya