After a much-laughed-about article was recently released on the practice of using tomatoes to grow tomatoes, there has been some more discussion regarding the merits of different planting methods. While we aren’t rediscovering farming from a pretty obvious web-post, we should be rediscovering the art of heirloom seeds.
Heirlooms are things that are passed down from generation to generation, and heirloom seeds aren’t that different. Heirloom seeds are just seeds that have been preserved from a previous harvest to be planted again the following year.
Heirloom seeds can be purchased from a number of catalogs, websites, or lawn and garden or hardware stores, or borrowed if you know someone who grows tomatoes – or whatever plant you want to grow.
The major benefit of the heirloom system is that you know what you’re getting, but only if you know what you’re planting, which is why it is probably preferable to acquire seeds over fruits to begin your planting endeavors.
Unless you go to a cooperative or farmer’s market, there’s a good chance that the plants you would purchase from a grocery store or supermarket are hybrid or genetically modified. These seeds might not germinate at all or might give you a sub-par product.
Most supermarkets and larger grocery stores also carry produce that might be from other countries or the far ends of this country that might not be suitable for the climate where you live. Even if these seeds take, they might not last long enough to deliver a full harvest.
On the topic of the product, heirloom seeds aren’t just better, heirloom foods are better too. This is largely because of control. No matter what seeds you plant with, planting your own seeds gives you complete control over what goes into the soil.
The ability to use compost or other organic fertilizers rather than chemical fertilizers and natural bug-repellents over pesticides mean that you can grow safer and better tasting foods. As you develop as a gardener you can even control minerals and acidity of the soil to maximize your output volume and taste.
Heirloom seeds also grow plants that are very similar to the plants that they were harvested from, though there will likely be some changes due to cross-pollination, provided your plants are outside where pollinators can get to them. This means that if you keep seeds for more than one year, you can have some pretty good quality control over your harvest: If the fruits you collect one year aren’t as good as those from the previous year, use the seeds from the year before that when you next plant to “reset” your seeds.
While this does mean that you need to save quite a few seeds, you will likely find that you get quite a few seeds more than you need unless you exponentially increase your planting each season.
In the end, heirloom planting can be a bit more work, and a lot more thinking, than buying new seeds every year, or trying to harvest seeds from grocery store produce, but the product is certainly worth it.