Heirloom seeds are popular right now - and with good reason! You might have heard about heirloom vegetables, especially from that neighbor who always grows the best tomatoes. What does it mean for a plant or seed to be heirloom, though?
What are heirloom seeds?
The name gives you a hint: heirloom seeds are old-fashioned seeds that have been handed down from generation to generation. Most heirloom seeds are at least 50 years old and sometimes much older.
Clearly, the seeds themselves are not that old, or they wouldn’t germinate. However, it does mean that these seeds have a history and have been carefully cultivated over decades, centuries, or even millennia! These are the flavors your grandparents enjoyed and their grandparents before that!
Since the heirloom plants are open-pollinated through natural processes, they breed true. The child plant will be the same kind of plant as the parents. While growers may select the plants with the best traits to provide seeds, they are not fundamentally changing the type of plant or variety.
What about hybrid and GMO seeds?
Let’s break down these two other types of seeds and how they’re different.
In contrast to heirloom varieties, hybrid seeds are created by crossing two different plants together for an entirely new kind of child seed. The seeds of hybrid plants do not breed true. Seeds from hybrid plants typically revert to an ancestor of one of the parent plants rather than returning as the same variety as the seed you grew. If you see a seed labeled as “F1”, that means it is a first-generation hybrid and not an heirloom variety.
GMO seeds are genetically modified using new biotechnology methods for various traits like disease resistance or pesticide tolerance. This type of genetic engineering involves direct gene manipulation at a very technical level, and so these seeds are patented to the company that created them. GMO seeds aren’t available to the public for widespread use, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally buying them.
Why should I grow heirloom seeds?
- Better flavor. All of those years of careful cultivation add up. The produce from heirloom seeds is generally more flavorful and robust, and you can tell the difference with every bite.
- A wider selection. Heirloom seeds give the home gardener much more choice and selection to explore. Heirloom tomatoes such as Black Krim and Cherokee Purple are ones you won't find just anywhere.
- More nutrition. Heirloom varieties have been shown to have better nutrient profiles, too. Better flavor and better for you? That’s a no-brainer!
- Reliability. Heirloom seeds have generations of history behind them, meaning they’re less prone to failure, and you can depend on their yields and performance. The National Pickling Cucumber is one heirloom variety that has a very reliable history.
- Less expensive. Hybrid seeds cost more because they have to be cross-pollinated anew every generation.
- Seed saving. Since heirloom seeds breed true, you can save seeds from your best plants to grow next year! Heirloom flowers such as zinnias and marigolds are easy to save seeds from.
- Preserve old varieties. Some heirlooms have lost popularity over the years, which is a shame. The more of these heirlooms that are grown and enjoyed, the better. Lovage and white sage are heirloom herbs that deserve attention.
- History. It’s really fun to reconnect with old varieties from the past that you just wouldn’t get to enjoy otherwise. Knowing that your great-great-great grandparents probably ate food very similar to this is a direct connection to the past.
All of our seeds at Sow Right Seeds are heirloom seeds. This includes our flower, herb, and cover crop seeds, too. By growing our seeds, you’re tasting the flavors of the past and growing the same plants that your grandparents did. These tried and true favorites deserve a place in everyone’s garden!