Heirloom Seeds

heirloom seeds

Heirloom Seeds versus Hybrid Seeds

Heirloom seeds will produce plants that are the same, year after year. They have the same genetic make up as the parent plant they came from. All generations will produce the same fruit or vegetable and have the same taste that you remember from your grandparents garden plants. A heirloom plant is one that has been passed down through generations.

The seeds that are withheld and dried from a heirloom tomato for example, will again produce the same wonderful tomato plant the next growing season. It is a self sustaining food producing system.

Hybrid seeds and the plants that grow from them have been bred for various qualities including disease resistance and production yield. As diseases evolve to attack the newer hybrids, the hybrid itself is re-engineered to combat the evolving threat. Hybrids are also engineered for specific climates and environments.

The produce of Hybrid plants will produce seeds, however, the results of the follow-on planting will be terrible at best. You will be lucky to get any fruit or vegetable harvest whatsoever. The use of hybrids require that you buy new seeds, year after year. This is not self sustaining.

Heirloom seeds and their subsequent plants will typically require more care and prevention from pests and disease since they have not been altered for disease and/or climate tolerance. However it is best to learn how to garden with them if you are at all concerned about self sustained living.

Save your Seeds

Once you have settled upon an heirloom variety, keep it going by saving the seeds for the next growing season. This is a simple process and varies a bit depending on the fruit or vegetable.

For example, to save tomato seeds, pick a good looking ripe tomato and squeeze it (and it’s seeds) into a strainer. Rinse them, and then spread the seeds out to dry. For lettuce, simply allow the seed stalks to form and harvest the seeds. For peppers, choose one that is ripe and colored, remove the seeds from the core and dry. Simple.

The vast majority of modern day civilization relies upon mass farming from large agriculture. A prepper-minded person will understand the risk in that, and will learn basic gardening, particularly with heirloom seed varieties which will produce year after year. Gardening is not simple, and chances are that your first harvest will have problems… which is why you should start experimenting now, before you may have to depend upon your own gardening skills for survival.

Heirloom Seeds

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  1. Saving tomato seeds is a bit more complicated than just drying. Inside the tomato the seeds are contained within a sac so that they will not sprout inside the fruit. This sac must be fermented off.

    To do this, you cut up a nice looking fruit into a few pieces, cover them with water and wait. This is best done outside because of the amazingly bad stench. Leave the container loosely covered, I use a cloth and a big rubber band. A layer of white moldy stuff will form on the top. In a few days, it will be completely covered.

    Then you rinse and collect the seeds. I use a wire mesh strainer and keep rinsing until you get clean seeds. Dump them out on something plastic like a container lid because they will stick to ceramic or glass. Let them dry, label, and store away. This can get complicated depending on how long you want to keep them.

    You are imitating what would happen naturally with a tomato seed. The tomato would drop off the vine and rot thus fermenting the sac from the seeds.

    Most seeds will lose some percentage of viability each year unless they are very dry and frozen. I use silica gel to reduce the humidity to about 5% and then freeze. If you can’t freeze, just keep in a dark cool place.

    Also, you can’t grow two varieties of any plant at the same time without extreme measures or a great deal of property to spread them out. If you do, you will cross pollinate, resulting in F1 hybrid seeds. F1 hybrids are largely sterile and won’t grow.

    A GREAT book on this subject is “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth. It’s very comprehensive and worth the price if you want to get into it. I’ve been working with heirloom plants for many years, it’s a lot of work and a very steep learning curve, but also very rewarding. These plants are just better tasting and better for you than GMO hybrids.

    1. One more thing…..saving tomato seeds is really about as hard as it gets. Most of the plants you just dry the seeds. Exceptions to this are the onion family which you let grow for two years before you can collect seeds. (I have garlic growing now, it gets planted in November in this part of the country).

      Just one more tip – don’t try just digging up a fertilized yard for your garden. Chemical fertilizers will not do the plants any good, and herbicides (weed killer) will kill the plants outright. Start with raised beds. About the best thing for pest control is surround the garden with marigolds and spray a lot of just heavily diluted household dish soap. Try not to use chlorinated water on them either, rain is best, but watering with the hose won’t really do them any harm. Water in the morning, but not too much as is the general inclination. They only need about 1 inch a week, and keeping a lot of mulch around the plants helps keep the moisture in the ground. Maybe a little more in the hot, hot summer. I noticed in my first year that the plants did better with less water because it forces them to grow nice healthy deep roots. Keep a compost pile, and the best thing ever is composted horse manure. Cow manure works too and you can buy that in bag.

      Lots of work in the spring, and the fall. Otherwise you just wait……and eat.

      Happy digging!

  2. The trick to growing heirloom plants is also saving the seeds. One doesn’t work without the other. Or its the end. Each year they need to be replanted or their germination rate gradually decreases.
    I will have to disagree with Travis, finding the art of saving tomato seeds one of the easiest. I just crush a totally ripe tomato in a fruit jar, add distilled water, and let it set for a 3-4 days in a warm area. The tomato will be done fermenting. Stir vigorously with a fork, add running water, and the sloth/scum of the pulp will wash away, good seeds will settle/swirl to the bottom. I do this until the water is clear from pulp and lay the seeds out on a towel to dry. Sure is better than the way my mother used to do it.
    Don’t forget to mark your seeds. The seeds all look alike.

  3. I am so thankful to get this info. One of my biggest fears about gardening was if I had to buy seeds every year. Also the fertilizing. I don’t have room for a compost pile myself, but I do have some nurseries around where I can buy some organic compost in a bag.

    Last spring, my city got three weeks of nonstop rain, and it killed my sprouts. Really hoping I can have some good luck for a change.

    1. Heirloom varieties can be more difficult to successfully grow (not necessarily though) because they are not bred for disease tolerance. However it is good responsibility to learn and know how to grow them, even if only a few of your favorite vegetables.

      3 weeks of nonstop rain is hard to deal with though… Better than drought I suppose.

  4. There are a lot of heirloom (open-pollinated) vegetable varieties that are naturally disease and pest resistant. Read the seed catalogs carefully to find these varieties for planting at home. One of our favorites is Yellow Pear Tomato. These plants are resistant to most tomato diseases, have good resistance to some pests, grow prolifically anywhere in the country, produce TONS of fruit (I’ve gotten up to 20 pounds off one plant), produce over a long season, taste great!, and can be used for just about anything you would need tomatoes for; sauce, pickles, salads, snacks, etc., they are very sweet. I always grow a lot of these, and any that don’t get eaten or canned are given to my chickens. Then the huge plant that is left at the end of Fall is put in my compost to feed next years tomatoes. The one pest that I find on my tomatoes almost every year, the tomato horn worm, is easily found and tossed to the chickens. Those horn worms are huge (big as my thumb) and can defoliate a plant in just a day or two.

  5. Hi y-all
    Yes I know it’s Christmas Eve, and we all are thinking of good wishes and merriment as am I.

    For me this is also a tradition for as long as I can remember my Grandfather, my Father and Myself have always taken Christmas weekend to plan and order seeds for the upcoming gardening year.
    This year, for quite a few reasons, I have decided to go (probably from now on) to go 100% Heirloom.

    So, My question is this, where do y-all get your seeds (other than what you harvest)? I have seen a wonderful site called http://www.rareseeds.com/ and have their catalog along with Burpee, Gurney, Henry Field’s and a few others . But I know there are a lot of you out there that grow Heirloom and would love to hear from you as to your preferences and ideas. FYI, doing a web-search brings up hundreds of places, so any help would be appreciated.

    Also if you have a very very favorite variety of produce that’s “out of this world” please feel free to add that. I’m in zone 6.

    Thank you for your input.
    PS; Planning a Garden with 12+” of snow on the ground is good for the soul and warms the heart.

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