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What are heirloom seeds, you ask? And why do they matter? Simply put, heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds that are harvested after flowering to produce the same crop, year after year. They are the best way to ensure that you are growing quality fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Choosing what to include in your garden is a personal preference, but one of the things you should never skimp on is using heirloom seeds.

What are Heirloom Seeds?

When you think of the word “heirloom”, you probably think of a hand-me-down item that has meaning and value to your family, and that is exactly a perfect description of heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds, or heritage seeds as they are sometimes called, are “handed down” from year to year, creating plants that you can rely on to have the same features and outcomes when growing.

The commercially produced, genetically modified hybrid seeds that are often used in large scale gardens and even some backyard planting will not produce seeds that are identical to the parent plant, so you never quite know what you are going to get. Heirloom seeds give you the confidence that you are growing a non-GMO plant without any surprises in the garden.

There are several distinct advantages to using heirloom seeds in your garden, including:

  1. Wonderful, delicious taste – Many hybrid varieties have very little flavor compared to the heirloom varieties that are available.
  2. Save seeds with open pollination – Reduce the costs of gardening over time as you will be able to save and replant seeds, rather than needing to purchase a new batch every growing season.
  3. Longer harvest season – You’ll be able to take advantage of the fresh harvest of your garden for a longer period of time, as most heirloom varieties will produce and ripen throughout the season rather than having a shorter, more distinct harvest period, like hybrid seeds.
  4. Better nutritional value – In many hybrid varieties, the structure of the plant has been modified to produce a higher yield, but the nutritional makeup of the fruit or vegetable is distinctly diminished.

With heirloom seeds, you’ll be able to get the full nutritional value out of your harvest, even if the overall yield is a bit lower than with a hybrid plant.

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What is Open Pollination?

Open-pollinated seeds are those that are produced by plants that are pollinated by natural means, such as wind, water, insects, or birds. Pollen is spread between similar plants, producing reliable seeds that are genetically diverse and more adaptable to various growing conditions.

See tips for attracting pollinators to your garden.

Self-pollinating vegetables like beans and lettuce do not require a pollinator, but are still considered to be open-pollinated as they are not cross-pollinated by other varieties.

It is important to note that if you are growing several varieties of the same type of fruit or vegetable, it is important to plant them a significant distance apart to avoid cross-pollination. In an open-pollinated environment, hybrids can occur naturally when you have two of the same type of plant in the same area, as pollinators buzz around, doing their job. Though this may not produce a poor plant, you will have less control and it will be difficult to reproduce the same result, year after year.

How to Save Heirloom Seeds

One of the most wonderful things about using heirloom seeds is that they truly can become something that you pass down through your family. Collecting the seeds of your heirloom harvest will allow you to reproduce your favorite varieties, year after year, creating your own personal history and memories that will be attached to the wonderful foods that you grow.

Saving heirloom seeds varies a bit from plant to plant. Some plants, like cucumber and squash, are most often harvested and consumed before they are fully mature, so leaving some behind to mature completely is necessary to save the seeds.

Other plants, such as lettuce and beans, are more often used at maturity, so saving them simply requires collecting a pod of mature seed to dry out and store for the next growing season. Tomatoes require the additional step of allowing fermentation of the seeds to break down the gel that coats the seeds before drying and storing.

Once you have collected your seeds and allowed them to dry out completely, you can store them in an envelope in a cool, dry environment until you are ready to start your seeds for the next planting season.

What are the Best Heirloom Seeds?

For the beginning gardener, creating a garden plan that includes a variety of heirloom fruits, herbs, and vegetables that are easy to care for and harvest is important. Here are a few of the best options for the beginning gardener as they are shopping for heirloom seeds to start their garden.

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumbers
  • Dill
  • Lettuce and Other Greens
  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sunflowers
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini

As you begin to spend time in your own garden, you will learn how to care for differing plants and can expand your variety and learn what plants bring the best value for your family, then cycle in new options each growing season.

My garden is such a source of joy and happiness for me. Spending hours working in the soil, growing healthful food for my family, and enjoying all of the wonderful blessings that God has provided us is a wondrous thing. And there is something so calming about my time in the garden. Experiencing the beauty of His wondrous creation firsthand makes it so simple to connect with God as you care for the plants that produce the food that will sustain you and the ones you love.

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