Heirloom Seeds

I grow a lot of plants from seed. There are several reasons for this. It’s cheaper, you get satisfaction from watching a seed germinate and grow into a plant, and the main reason for me, you have a much larger variety. I love heirloom plants, and for the most part you have to grow those from seed. Heirloom plants are plants that were grown in the past and passed down through generations. They are open-pollinated so you can save seed from them, and there is an extensive variety to choose from. Heirloom vegetables tend to taste better and have better nutrition. Heirloom flowers are much more fragrant. The reason for this is that breeders sacrifice taste, nutrition and scent for uniformity, color, and height. For example, instead of a 4′ willowy plant with a heavenly fragrance, you end up with a 1.5′ plant with more color variety but no scent. I suppose it’s a matter of preference. I don’t care if my vegetables aren’t uniform, or are shaped a little funny. I’d happily give up appearance for taste and nutrition. Sometimes you want a short, colorful variety of flower, but for the most part I tend to like the old fashioned varieties with the wonderful fragrance. In addition to these reasons, heirloom seeds are just more interesting. They usually have a story with them, such as how they got to America, or how they were named, and when they were in cultivation. I find a plant’s history interesting as well as whatever folklore is attached to it.
There are a lot of online seed suppliers that specialize in heirloom varieties. I’ve ordered from multiple sites, but just this year I ordered seed from “Select Seeds” and “Baker Creek”, as well as a few from ebay. Ten years or so ago, I tried an heirloom muskmelon called “Jenny Lind”. I no longer remember where I got the original seed from, but I’ve kept it ever since. “Jenny Lind” melons are smaller than the varieties you get in the store. They only weigh in at a pound or two, but they are wonderful. I have plants in the ground now, and I’m looking forward to harvesting these melons later this year. “Jenny Lind” melons date to the 1800s and were named after a singer who was famous at the time.
I have heirloom marigolds, some of which get to 4′ tall. That is quite a way from the 6″ plants they sell in flats to line gas station parking lots with. 4′ tall plants can become unwieldy, and may need staking, but the flowers are absolutely gorgeous. Those are just a couple of examples. If you start looking at heirloom seeds, you may be surprised at the attributes of plants you thought you knew.
Saving seed is not difficult. If you have a favorite tomato or flower that is open-pollinated, you can save it to grow again the following season. Tomato seeds and a few others require fermenting. The reason for this is to kill off any diseases there may be and to get rid of germination-inhibiting substances the seed is coated in. Fermenting mimics the natural cycle of dropped fruit that would rot, leaving the seeds, to return the following year. Most seeds do not require this little bit of unpleasantness. The most difficult problem you may have is separating seed from chaff if you are dealing with small seeds.

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea is easy to grow from seed. I started these plants last summer and this summer I have flowers.

Germinating seeds is a whole other adventure. Different seeds have different methods of germination. Some require light, some require dark. They need all different temperatures, depending on the plant. Some have to be cold stratified. Some take a cycle of several years to germinate. Then there are the really unusual methods of germination. Some require fire to break their dormancy. After a brushfire, the land is fertilized with ash and the seeds are dropped onto the cleared and fertilized land. Some require smoke rather than fire. Many seeds have a symbiotic relationship with animals, not only for dispersal, but also for germination. These seeds need to pass through a certain animal’s digestive system to germinate. Ants fertilize some seeds, such as bloodroot. I’m sure there are more that I have not listed here as well. So when we germinate seeds, we have to mimic the seed’s combination for breaking dormancy, and some are stricter than others.

At the end of the season when I go to save seed, I’ll post photos.

One final note. I store my seeds in the refrigerator, much to my husband’s annoyance. Most seeds that I grow naturally go through a cold period in the winter before germinating in the Spring. Keeping them cool mimics winter and extends their shelf life.
Take a look at heirlooms and share in plant envy with me!

Black Sweet William

Sweet William, Dianthus Barbatus “Sooty”


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