4.03.2008

Grow Heirloom Vegetables

The Seed Savers Exchange is an Iowa-based nonprofit that preserves genetic diversity in seeds and distributes heirloom (non-hybridized and thus non-sterile) seeds to gardeners. If you're looking for a source of exciting seed varieties to plant this year, look no further.

From their website:

If you want variety, superior flavor, unusual colors and shapes and unique histories, heirloom gardening is a wonderful alternative to growing the F1 hybrids featured predominately by many large seed companies. Most home gardeners and grower don't need tomatoes with skins tough enough to withstand cross-country shipment, or potatoes that will pass the McDonald's uniformity test. Since the 1940s the hybrids have been the most marketed varieties to home gardeners. Choices grew increasingly smaller as the seed companies discarded those varieties that did not fit the factory-farm, monoculture mold.

Although the old time varieties were worthy of continuing, many were dropped by seed companies in favor of the hybrids and gradually home growers couldn't get the same tomatoes and peppers they remembered from childhood. An entire generation grew up believing that all tomatoes were red, round and identical in taste. However, heirloom gardening is putting an end to that myth! There are thousands of different tomato varieties, and although some are red and round there are many others with incredibly complex flavors and a virtual rainbow of colors!
Many hybridized plant varieties were also bred to ripen all at once to aid in mechanical harvesting. Heirloom seeds tend to have staggered ripening periods, which is far more beneficial to home gardeners.

We have added Seed Savers Exchange's Heritage Farm to our list of Iowa Gardening Resources. Their seeds, of course, are an asset to gardeners throughout the U.S. and beyond. Of course, there are many other great sources of heirloom seeds out there; Heirloom Seeds and Victory Seeds are just a couple of them, and Halcyon has not only a listing of heirloom seed sellers but also a list of seed exchange and swapping organizations.

If you have a gardening resource you'd like to suggest for your state, check out your state's page on Gardenaut and then submit your suggestion of a state- or region-specific book, website, blog, or other aid to home gardeners using the handy submission form linked from the bottom of every state resource page.

4 comments:

Joshua McNichols said...

I have some other heirloom seed companies to suggest:

Ambitious and honorable in Iowa:
http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/

Zealous but Useful in California:
http://www.bountifulgardens.org/

Once Glorious but Untried Since Gutted by Fire in the Pacific Northwest:
www.abundantlifeseeds.com/

Comprehensive and Dependable in the Pacific Northwest:
www.territorialseed.com

I get 90% of my seeds from Territorial Seed Company. But the others fill the odd niche here and there. They represent the best kind of seed catalog - a regional catalog that tests seeds for adaptability to my climate.

Cassie said...

Do you have any ideas about container gardening? I would like to use heirloom seeds but I don't know the first thing about gardening. I'd like to do this with my four year old. We don't have room for a garden so I want to use containers. We want to grow tomatoes and perhaps pumpkins but I'm not sure if pumpkins can be done in containers. What would you recommend as far as vegetables that would work well in containers?

Joshua McNichols said...

I have grown pumpkins in containers. The good thing is that pumpkins like heat, and containers, when situated correctly, increase the temperature of the soil. I believe they are considered heavy feeders though, so you might want to consider supplementing your soil mix with a good organic fertilizer. I find container gardening to be much harder than gardening in the ground, since the soil dries out more quickly. And when it's dry, the plant has nowhere from which to acquire the moisture it needs to live. In the ground, on the other hand, a plant is more able to withstand drought by sending roots deeper. Due to such stresses, I got only 2 or three pumpkins last year in my container, but could have gotten more if I had watered more consistently.

Tomatoes are much easier to grow in containers than pumpkins. They can take more stress. I recommend cherry tomatoes selected for your climate - up here we love the sweet orange sun gold. They ripen more quickly than larger tomatoes and are perfect for a kid to pick and pop into their mouth.

These experiences are from Seattle - where growing southern veggies like pumpkins means maximizing sun exposure. Advice for other parts of the country might be different.

Melinda said...

See The Bountiful Container. There are lots of ideas there--different theme gardens (including one for toddlers and another one for kids--stuff that grows pretty fast and pretty reliably) plus lots of information on what different varieties of edible plants grow well in containers. You can find some sort of container garden to grow, no matter your space limitations.

I grow bush beans and an assortment of herbs every year. I live in an apartment and have to drag my water around--no hose--so I'm somewhat limited and don't try for things that can't stand a little water stress...

I start reading the book every January, just to keep me going until spring. I think you'll love it here's a link to a review of it on Seeds of Change http://www.seedsofchange.com/enewsletter/issue_41/bountiful_container.asp