I find seeds fascinating – I love that they come in a variety of colors, sizes, shapes and textures. I look forward to the spring days when I hold seeds in my hand, imagining what lovely creatures they will become when grown. As a child I remember playing in my great grandmother’s garden “helping” her collect seeds to plant the following year. To me, this was just a part of gardening. I didn’t know that other people bought seeds from a store each year, or that my great grandmother’s garden was actually comprised of heirloom plants (a trend which has been returning to popularity in North America in recent decades).
What is an Heirloom Plant?
A true heirloom plant that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. How experts define heirlooms can vary, but typically they are at least 50 years old, and are often pre-WWII varieties. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next (unlike hybrid or GMO plants which are either 1) unable to reproduce by seed or 2) the seeds produce a plant unlike the mother plant). Many gardeners agree that most heirloom varieties boast greater flavor than that found in hybrids, especially among tomatoes.
As seed saving becomes less a part of our culture, hundreds of heirloom varieties are on the verge of being lost and consequently, the major seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Seed harvesting and seed sharing will play a crucial role in preserving our plant heritage for us and for our future.
Here’s a few things you can do to help preserve heirloom plants:
- Avoid buying hybrid and GMO seeds from the top 10 major seed companies
- Save your own heirloom seeds: To learn how check out: Vegetable Planting and Seed Saving Instructions and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth
- Participate in a seed share library. Seed libraries allow local gardeners “check out” seeds with the agreement that they will sow them, grow them and collect some of the seed to return to the library. Here’s a few of the more popular Seed Libraries in Colorado: Basalt Seed Library (Basalt, CO), Southwest Seed Library (Durango, CO) MARCH 11th Seed Swap & Talk, Ross-Broadway Branch Seed Exchange Library (Denver, CO).
- Create your very own Seed Share Station ANYWHERE you like, by using the Hawaii-based Eating in Public’s Seed-sharing station model. Seed Share stations are unmonitored installations that offer easily accessible spaces to exchange seeds and horticultural information. Click here for Instructions on how to build your own seed sharing station. For more information on this project: http://www.nomoola.com/seeds/
- Purchase heirloom seeds from a reliable seed saving organization: Top 10 heirloom seed companies (my personal favorite is Seed Savers Exchange)
Help form a living legacy that can be passed down through generations by saving and sharing heirloom seeds!