Heirloom In My Garden – Maybe Not!

The term Heirloom seed, does not seem to be well defined and is arbitrarily applied to seeds and plants by growers and sellers personal beliefs in what qualifies to be called a Heirloom plant.
Many growers use 1961 (50) years old, 1951 (60) years old, 1945 post WWII when hybrid seed era ballooned into a full fledged agricultural business and the entrenched heirloom growers, claim that plants must be documented back to 1910 or earlier. To a time before wide spread experimental hybridizing began.

General definition of an Heirloom is a cultivar that was/has been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not now used in modern large scale farming. Most growers do agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated.
This also means that any bee or wind shift can and often does pollinate you ‘heirloom’ plants from pollen donated by hybrid’s or by a different variety heirloom plant near by. Even you without knowing can introduce a different variety’s pollen by brushing against the plants and moving pollen from plant to plant on your clothing.

Seed producers, seed sellers and wholesale seed distributors, will never tell ‘You’ the buyer that the seeds you are paying a premium for may in fact be an accidental hybrid seed. Unless your seed(s) were produced under highly filtered, enclosed, insect free conditions you can not be assured you are getting a true, pure package of ‘Heirloom’ seed. I don’t think this should be of big concern for home or commercial growers. Heirlooms of today were selected by nature under Darwins {Survival of the fittest} theory. Don’t let any seed seller tell you this is a pre-historic variety, because it is not. Even ‘Heirlooms’ favor evaluation over time, adapting to soil and weather growing conditions.

Some heirloom growers swear that ‘their’ heirlooms are more hardy, take less water and fertilizer and taste better than modern hybrids. I think this is mostly an unintended deception being perpetrated on seed buyers. The true fact is most heirlooms have little resistance to many of the fungus and viruses found in commercial growing operations as well as in home gardens. In close growing conditions, these plant diseases are passed from plant to plant by insects, in the soil and even carried on the wind.

As for the needing less water and fertilizers, this may have some truth in it. However they seldom remember to tell the buyer that in general heirlooms, produce fewer pounds per plant than their hybrid counter part. Of course the number of pounds of fruit produced has a direct effect on that plants water and nutrient needs. Hybrids grown under the same conditions as a heirloom will generally still out perform a heirloom in total produce by weight of fruit produced, it just will not be as pronounced as plants that are properly watered and fertilized.

Heirlooms taste better! Maybe, maybe not. I truly don’t think most consumers can tell much if any difference in taste when both a heirloom and a hybrid are allowed to become fully vine ripe before picking and consuming that produce. The so called cardboard taste we consumers find in supermarket fruits and vegetables is most caused by timing of produce picking and the consumers them self’s in demanding their supermarket shelf being fully stocked with hundreds of varieties of ready to eat produce, 365 day’s a year. I know of no vine ripe fruit or vegetable that can stand up to being picked when fully ripe, shipped thousands of miles and placed on supermarket shelf for many days before reaching the consumer.

Don’t go postal on me. I grow a few heirloom varieties, but, most of what I grow is hybrids. It is a choice that I make when choosing my garden seed. You have the same opportunity. Select, plant and grow what makes you the happiest.

Just keep in mind, that the main reason heirlooms came to exist was more an economical reason than that of plant hardiness or taste. Few people could afford to buy new seed every year. Seed was in short supply and hard to come by. Many times farmers and gardeners lived many miles from towns and traveled by horse, buggy or wagon. The solution to this problem was a simple one. Save seed from this years crop to plant next year. It became common for family members, friends and neighbors to give away excess seed or to trade for plant seed they did not have but wanted or need to grow to feed their families.

Why is common sense so uncommon?
Don’t be Shy. Leave me your comment(s)

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