7 Reasons Why Every Gardener Should Consider Growing Heirloom Seeds
No, we’re not talking about your great-grandmother’s vintage jewelry collection—although some of these heirlooms could actually be that old.
Heirloom, as it refers to seeds, is generally defined as any open-pollinated cultivar that has been around for fifty years or more.
You’ll most commonly hear folks talk about heirloom tomatoes, but there are heirloom varieties of most fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about heirloom seeds and the many ways they could benefit your garden.
What are heirloom seeds?
Remember that example about your relative’s treasured jewelry? Heirloom seeds are similar to family heirlooms in that they get their start by being passed down through multiple generations.
By definition, heirloom seeds must be open-pollinated, meaning that the plant’s flowers are pollinated via natural means like insects, birds, or even wind—no human intervention.
On the other hand, hybrid plants are intentional crosses between heirloom and open-pollinated varieties for certain desirable characteristics, including improved yields, better shelf life, or increased disease and pest resistance.
7 benefits of growing heirlooms
Both heirlooms and hybrid seeds have their place in the garden, but there are advantages (and disadvantages) of each. All in all, heirlooms tend to be the better option for growing delicious, nutritious produce to feed a family, whereas growers opt for hybrids if they are more concerned with general hardiness and yield.
1. Preserving history
The coolest thing about heirlooms is that these plants originated in a unique time and place.
As our world becomes more and more digital and fragmented, heirloom seeds keep us connected to our ancestors, heritage, and our planet. Heirloom seeds are a great learning tool for kids and adults alike since each variety is representative of a specific place, a unique culture, and a particular time in history.
Before the globalization of the food chain, people depended on gardens to feed them all year long. Sure, some heirlooms were grown for fun, but these seeds also served as the foundation of survival for many people worldwide.
2. Regionally adapted plants
The fact that heirlooms originated in specific places has sentimental and scientific implications.
After growing and saving seeds from generations of plants in a particular area, the plants naturally evolve to better tolerate that area’s temperatures and weather patterns, as well as pest pressure and disease.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t grow heirlooms in different places, but it does mean that heirlooms always grow best in their area of origin because they are naturally regionally adapted to that particular area.
As a result, growers might use fewer pesticides and chemicals when cultivating heirlooms, since regionally-adapted plants won’t need as much maintenance as other crops.
Some growers will say that heirlooms are harder to grow, but the right heirlooms for your area will be as easy as hybrids. This is great news for Southern growers—although Seeds ‘N Such provides quality seeds throughout the continental United States, our seeds are particularly well-suited to the mild, humid climate of the Southeast. Heirlooms grown in this climate are likely to be very successful.
3. Genetic diversity
Hybrid seeds are great—in some scenarios. Like when you want specific and predictable results in your garden. When your goal is to raise the hardiest plants with the most disease resistance, or you’re hoping to get the most prolific yields out of your crops.
Hybrid seeds become a problem when they’re the only option on the shelves.
According to an article published by the United States Department of Agriculture, more than half of the world’s commercial seed stock (like soybeans and corn) is owned by just a few major corporations. Many of these companies have gone so far as to patent seed genetics for their developed varieties, imposing restrictions on seed harvesting and reselling.
Heirloom cultivars belong to no one—or better yet, these seeds belong to everyone. So you’ll never have to worry about intellectual property or lawsuits if you plant heirlooms.
Of course, you won’t have to worry about lawsuits with any Seeds ‘n Such seeds, hybrid or heirloom, since Seeds ‘N Such is a small, family-owned seed company. But with the direction that commercial seeds are headed, it might already be time to take a stance against big seed conglomerates.
Planting heirloom seeds is an act of defiance against the global seed industry, and an act of self-sufficiency for the home gardener with a family to feed.
Plus, planting more heirloom varieties preserves plant diversity, putting unique and wonderful characteristics back into the seed genetic pool.
As gardeners, it’s our role to safeguard diverse plant species by continuing to plant them, save the seeds, and pass the seeds on to future growers.
4. Extensive variety selection
There are as many heirlooms as hybrid cultivars, so variety isn’t lacking when it comes to heirloom seeds.
At Seeds ‘N Such alone, we carry hundreds of heirloom varieties—more than you could ever possibly grow in your garden (unless you have an army to work with). You could plant your entire garden in heirlooms alone and never run out of new varieties to try—though we’d wager that you won’t want to deter from your favorites once you’ve found them.
5. Better-tasting (and more nutritious) produce
Taste is a matter of personal preference, but most folks agree that fruit from heirloom plants tastes far better than hybrids. Why? Hybrids are selectively bred for a specific trait (or more) but heirlooms were primarily cultivated for flavor.
Take tomatoes, for example. Heirloom varieties aren’t usually as productive as hybrids, and as a result, heirloom plants concentrate more sugars in fewer tomatoes, whereas hybrid plants dilute a similar amount of sugars in more fruit.
Not only do heirlooms have the edge on flavor, but heirlooms also tend to be more nutritious than hybrids—heirlooms have more vitamins and minerals than a similar hybrid, for the same reason that their flavor is often better.
Heirlooms have superior flavor and are ultimately more nutritious than hybrids, so why wouldn’t you grow more heirlooms in your garden?
6. The ability to save seeds
Here’s where heirloom seeds beat out hybrids in the long run—you can save seeds from heirloom plants and they’ll come back true to type, unlike hybrids.
Saving seeds is a process, but it isn’t as hard as it sounds. It’s a good skill to learn if self-sufficiency is on your mind, because you’ll never run out of seeds if you know how to save your own. It’s also the most cost-effective option, since you won’t have to buy the same seeds year after year,
Not sure where to start? Stay tuned next week for a primer on saving seeds from your own garden.
7. Less expensive seeds
I know what you’re thinking. Hybrid and heirloom seed packets cost about the same. And the sticker price for each is the same–or at least it used to be!
All Seeds ‘N Such heirloom seeds are on sale until October 4, 2023 - so don’t wait to order your heirloom seeds. Spring will be here before you know it, and now’s the time to buy seeds for next year.
Gardening with heirloom seeds has unique benefits, as these plants are regionally adapted and can be passed down from generation to generation. Growing heirloom varieties can help preserve history and plant diversity, in addition to providing superior flavor and nutrition compared to hybrids. Seeds 'N Such carries hundreds of heirloom varieties, and saving seeds from these plants is an affordable and sustainable option for other types of seeds.
Shop the Seeds 'N Such Heirloom Seed Collection today and find something new for the next growing season. These heirlooms are only on sale for a limited time—be sure to snag your favorite vegetables and flowers before they sell out!