What Are Heirloom Seeds–And Why Should You Plant Them?

Adobe Stock

If you’re planning a garden–or even just growing a few culinary herbs in containers–then you need to know about heirloom seeds. What are they, and why should you consider planting them?

The Trouble with Hybrid Seeds

There are two basic seed types available to home gardeners: hybrid and heirloom. Hybrid seeds are commercially created to ensure that the plants look and taste exactly the same every time. You can also find a huge variety of seeds, often with showier colors, bigger fruit, and other special features.

Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few downsides. The big one is that hybrid seeds can’t be saved and planted next year. You have to buy from the seed company every time. That’s because hybrid seeds are the result of two crossed plants–and, like mules, they can’t reproduce.

That’s a bummer when you’ve spent good money on seeds or plants from a nursery!

Heirloom Seeds

Here’s where heirloom seeds come in. These seeds are just like heirloom furniture that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Although they can be more expensive than commercial hybrid varieties, there are a lot of benefits to growing heirloom plants.

You can harvest and save the seeds from all your heirloom vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Those seeds can be planted again. Many gardeners trade seeds with each other through the mail, ensuring that heirloom varieties continue to thrive. And you can even sell extra seeds!

Many gardeners believe that heirloom plants simply taste better. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, are more flavorful than their grocery store cousins.

Open Pollination

One of the most fascinating things about heirloom seeds is that they are open pollinated. This means that the plants are pollinated by wind, insects, and birds–the way nature intended.

The result is that, over the years, your particular heirloom plants will adapt to thrive in your garden.

Heirloom plants help preserve biodiversity and carry on the traditions of generations. Growing them can help you feel like part of a community, even if you’re just planting a few tomatoes in your backyard!

The Downsides of Heirloom Varieties

Unfortunately, there are a few issues you should know about heirloom seeds before you try to grow them. For one thing, they may not be as vigorous as hybrids, which have been bred to produce as much yield as possible in a single season.

Heirlooms are also more susceptible to pests and diseases because they haven’t been crossed and genetically modified. You’ll need to be a resourceful and active gardener to avoid these issues. But growing heirloom plants is absolutely worth it.