There are basically two types of seed:
-open-pollinated (pollinated naturally in the wild)
When you plant open-pollinated seeds and save the seeds from that crop, the next generation is going to be like the one before. When a seed regenerates over and over for many years and remains unchanged, or stabilized, it’s then called an “heirloom” variety.
Here’s why you should consider heirloom seed…
How old are heirloom varieties?
There are some disagreements over the age at which an open-pollinated variety should be categorized as “heirloom”. Some say that 25 years is adequate while others insist that the minimum age should be 50 years or older, assuring that they’ve stabilized. Some people even say 100 years or older.
Hybrid seeds are different
Hybrids are created by cross-pollination of varieties to produce a seed with the most desirable traits. They are typically created by large companies with different goals.
Hybrid seed manufacturers want something that transports well and looks ‘pretty’ on a grocery store shelf. The thing is, when you breed for those purposes, you may lose other traits, such as flavor, and the ability to reproduce from the crop’s seed.
Who buys heirloom seed?
Owners of large farms typically don’t buy heirloom seeds. Instead they are often purchased by small-scale, home gardeners and preppers who want those original traits, and the ability to save seeds for the next season – a renewable food resource.
Heirloom or Hybrid?
The use of heirloom varieties also bring on the nostalgia of growing what your grandparents once grew – the recollection of such good flavor.
Most varieties of vegetables at grocery stores are hybrids bred to have long shelf life and tough skins for hardier transportation purposes. They also are bred to have regular shapes for attractiveness – again often at the expense of flavor (and any other yet unknown detrimental effects of hybrid or GMO).
These days, heirloom varieties are trending in the produce aisles of major supermarket chains across the country, indicating the increasing concern that people have regarding the vegetables that they eat.
If you are a gardener or prepper, heirloom seeds and heirloom vegetable varieties are a highly economical choice since in theory you only need to buy the seed once. You may purchase a packet of seeds, grow them and allow some of the plants to bolt to seed – for next year.
Having said all this, it is true that hybrid seed-plants may be easier to grow in some cases because of the disease tolerance that may also be bred into them. Heirloom varieties may require more attention to best-practices while gardening and catching any potential problems early – as they do not have any special disease tolerance other than their natural ability to deal with a given environment.
The rewards though are great. Natural food, excellent flavor, and self-sustaining.