Why is it becoming more confusing buying your Heirloom Seeds
The grow your own movement is now firmly established as a viable alternative to shop bought produce and the term heirloom seeds and plants is banded about everywhere now in the gardening and growing world. Probably born out of those of us trying to source and grow more flavour full food. Heirloom Tomatoes in particular can be singled out as a major contributor in the search for taste.
Although the popularity of the term and the increasing desire to purchase heirloom seeds is more than likely more to do with ensuring that they are non GMO seeds
But this modern popular gardening term is not all that it appears to be on the surface and does cause a great deal of confusion – Why is this and has it been watered down?
Firstly, when we talk of heirloom seeds we also need to keep in mind heirloom plants, a bit like the chicken and the egg, they are both reliant upon each other.
In most cases, when we use the term heirloom with seeds and plants we are mostly talking about vegetables and fruit.
But there is a growing following in the ornamental flower seeds and plants area also.
I have found that in the main the terminology refers to edible seeds and plants, with the preferred method of propagation for heirloom vegetables being seed and the preferred method of propagation for heirloom plants (fruit trees and bushes, Apples etc.) grafting or cuttings. According to Darwin there is far less chance of variation with the later.
This is why we see plenty of mentions of heirloom vegetable seeds. But this is by no means set in stone and the two classes do overlap.
Some heirloom seeds being offered are in fact last years crop of seed, basically, the seed has been gathered recently from a plant that was / is classed as an heirloom plant. So the seed might not necessarily be that old and we already know Darwin’s views on this so the question to ask is, can the supplier guarantee provenance and also confirm very little variation from the original mother plant?
Knowing this does help a little when trying to understand the differing classes of terminology.
Another issue with heirloom seeds, there is no real definition that is accepted by everyone on just what the word heirloom means, thereby making it a hot topic of debate, also and more importantly a cause of concern for those of us looking for the old, true species and cultivars that seemingly had more flavour grown in yesteryear.
Establishing a time frame seems to be the area that causes most disagreement.
Some say, the cultivar must be over 100 years old, some say 50 years. Some prefer a dateline pre 1945, the end of the second world war and the initial development of hybridisation of plants by growers whilst others opt for pre 1951, the year marking the major proliferation of hybrid seeds onto the market.
When we use the word heirloom we often use it in the context of generational hand-me downs and there are those that believe this too should be a component when using it to describe heirloom vegetables, seeds and plants.
Add to this the various terminology that is now being used in different countries – organic heirloom seeds – heritage seeds – and it quickly becomes apparent that it is becoming increasingly more confusing – They are, to all intents and purposes, the same thing.
To summarise, in order for you to find a truly tasty vegetable to grow don’t be fooled into thinking that the advertisement stating Heirloom Seeds is going to mean that the seed is very old and the resulting plants will be full of your preferred flavour. ‘Old’ could mean anything from about 30/40 years to pre-historic ( and maybe the seed was gathered in the last few months) and the flavour might not be to your liking.
Always ask more questions before you buy your heirloom seeds and heirloom plants and then rest assured that the seeds you are buying are non GMO seeds