So what’s the deal with heirloom?

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For me, May is the month of planting.   I get over the moon excited to get my plants and my seeds in the ground.   I have prepared by growing out my tomato plants on a light table, in trays, and now they are ready to go!   I have beautiful seeds, bursting with life, ready to go into the ground.   To me, the seeds are very special.  I save them year over year and plant them dutifully and happily each year.   But people often ask me why they are special— and why I grow them.   So I want to share some facts with you.

Heirlooms are open-pollinated.

So what is an heirloom, anyway?  Well, let’s start with open-pollinated, or OP.  This means that you can save the seeds, and the next season it will come up as the same variety that you collected the seeds from.  This is a general term that applies to all vegetables and/or fruits that can be re-seeded as a true representative of its parent. 

 An heirloom is an open-pollinated plant that is an antique.   This term is often applied to seed lines that are over fifty years old.  Many varieties are much older (some from Native Americans, or from Thomas Jefferson’s garden for example), but there are also open-pollinated varieties that are being developed today in laboratories, and in people’s gardens all over the country.  These newer varieties are not heirloom, but the seeds are true.  I LOVE trying out different varieties, as there are thousands out there, and I have discovered a group of them that I grow each year that are happy in this climate.   Here’s one I found after a hard day’s work.   It is called Kellogg’s Breakfast, and it is one of my good ole stand-bys.

What about hybrid foods? Are they good for us?

Let’s take a closer look at hybrids, often classified as F1 hybrid.  There has been much discussion in the gardening world about the term “hybrid”, and it has become somewhat associated with the controversial (and detrimental)  GMO.  GMO stands for genetically modified organism, and this is what has revolutionized the food industry, and not really in a good way, at least as far as I am concerned.  But first– what is a hybrid?

This is a plant that has been crossed with another plant of the same type to create a plant that exhibits the best traits of its parents.  It has been bred for specific purposes.   For example, maybe you desire a tomato plant that yields well in adverse conditions– high heat, or cold environments– or you want high yields– or resistance to a disease.  Hybrids can be bred for many different conditions, so they are definitely not inherently bad.

Where hybrids have gotten a bad rap is the association with supermarket produce.  Yes, it is true many hybrid varieties have been developed for the shipping industry, which has left us with bland favor and uniform descriptions.  The flavor of many open-pollinated varieties are often  more vibrant and they tend to be much more fragile, which is why they rarely appear regularly in the supermarket produce aisle.  But this is not always the case.

Some hybrids are just as delicious as open-pollinated types.  My favorite summer squash is a hybrid– and it tastes and looks amazing and exotic.  And corn?  Any sugar-enhanced corn, which is basically all we eat in America now, is hybrid.  It is very sweet and delicious.  Open-pollinated corn is not very sweet, and I think personally many consumers would reject it.  So to state my case for the hybrid?  I think they fill a need in the garden– to mix a few hybrids in your heirloom garden can be a treat!  I just believe you need to do your homework on which varieties you prefer and how they react in your garden.  Below is  “Honey and Cream” hybrid bi-color corn.  It is sugar-enhanced.  I grew this one last year.  Sweet, and small-eared.  It had large husks, so no ear worms!  What a plus.


Hybrid means you will spend more on seeds.

Another big downside to the hybrid seed is the need to re-buy seed every year.  The seeds do not come back true.  It is often some strange variation of a parent strain. Now for the winter squash, watermelon, and pepper, or any other type of produce whose seed is very easy to save, I think growing open-pollinated varieties for the most part is the best way to save money.  But other vegetables such as the cucumber, eggplant, and especially the carrot (which is a bi-ennial) saving seeds can be quite a chore.  So, if there is a hybrid that really suits your fancy, I say go for it.  If you are purchasing seeds for these crops every year, do your homework on which varieties suit you.  A hybrid may work better for you.  There is nothing necessarily wrong or harmful about a hybrid– it is merely a cross of two other strains of a specific fruit or vegetable.

GMOs are unnatural. They do not belong in nature.

Now the dreaded GMO.  I must admit, my father has grown GMO crops.  I do not agree with him about this, but the farming industry as a whole is dominated by these crops.  They were first introduced in the marketplace originally by Calgene, a subsidiary of a  VERY large seed and chemical company that we know as Monsanto.  Genetically modified organisms are created by the insertion of a foreign gene into the plant’s DNA via the cell wall of the plant. Foreign in this case means it is coming from an unrelated species.  This whole process just seems to me to be VERY scientific and NOT very natural.

When my father planted his first field of GMO soybeans, and there was not a weed in sight, I must admit I was impressed.  I did ask him though, what happens if it mutates?  Now, there is no clear answer for this, and this is what scares me about these products.  Something this far from the natural order of things just doesn’t seem to be good.   It seems that we are finding out that there are many problems here.  It is frustrating to me when most of the offerings to traditional farmers are GMOs.  Natural open-pollinated seeds or older-generation hybrids are difficult to locate, and Monsanto makes it VERY difficult to plant on land that was previously Monsanto crops.  BIG SIGH!  Things are beginning to change, and I hope they continue to turn against these GMO products. 

Consumers vote with their pocketbooks, and our health depends on it.

  There is compelling evidence mounting that GMO crops are devastating to our health.   The pesticides used on these crops have been linked to autism, cancers and autoimmune disorders.   The crops themselves have been linked to leaky gut.  So we should stay FAR away from these foods. 

Even as a gardener and small time farmer, I choose not to buy their seeds and I educate myself on who sells them. Below is a link to a list of companies that sell Monsanto seed.  Another thing about this company– they own many patents to all types of seeds– and many are vegetable seeds for the home gardener.     Even though I am small, I want to make a personal stand on  this!  It is important to me that the small farmer, and the large farmer alike, have access to whichever seeds he or she chooses.  I choose not to buy from this monster corporation.  I hope you  will also make this effort. It’s not just about seeds, it’s about the foods we choose to buy.   If they are genetically modified, then the process continues.   Remember too that most of the animal feed is GMO.   So there is a great deal at stake here.   We can affect change with our pocketbooks.

I think our seed heritage is THE most important issue today.  One only has to revisit thoughts of the Great Irish Potato Famine to understand the need for diversity in our food supply.  I hope this sheds some light on the different types of seeds that are available out there, and helps you make the right choices for your family.  These beautiful pictures are all heirloom vegetables that came from my garden.   We can have diversity and beauty in our backyards and we can opt for the best health ever, by choosing to grow and eat our own foods and our local foods.   

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