Updated: Mar 18
Heirloom seeds are old varieties of seeds -- at least 50 years old, specifically -- that are typically passed down from generation to generation. Heirloom varieties of fruit such as tomatoes often have different characteristics than what you might find at a grocery store, because they are often selected for size and flavor instead of shelf life.
Heirloom seeds also present advantages to Growers as well. Heirloom varieties may be more adapted to their particular climate, or offer a unique flavor they can sell to chefs.
The other beauty of heirloom seeds is the story behind them. Imagine yourself looking out over your garden, deciding which tomatoes to harvest for a salad. You choose the biggest, juiciest one and as you’re cutting, you set the seeds aside to save them. If you repeat this process over time, you’ll have completely unique seeds that have adapted to your soil and climate.
What are the benefits of heirloom seeds?
Heirloom seeds are often planted close to where they were grown, which means they may be more resilient to certain changes in the climate and are more able to find the nutrients they need in the soil. Heirloom varieties come in unique shapes and sizes, even colors! They may also have particular uses. Some are better for sauces, others better for pickling or slicing.
What is the difference between heirloom seeds and regular seeds?
Heirloom seeds are at least 50 years old that are open pollinated, which basically means without human intervention. Regular seeds -- known as Hybrid seeds -- are usually produced in a greenhouse setting that is specifically designed to produce seeds. Oftentimes they are controlled for different things, such as shelf life or the ability to withstand certain pesticides. Everyone has a unique flavor palette, but we think heirlooms taste the best!
Genetically Modified Organisms are seeds that scientists have altered to resist weed killers such as the glyphosate used in RoundUp. Although agriculture gets their fair share of attention for spraying their crops with RoundUp, its largest use is on lawns and back yards. Hey, at least the farmers aren’t playing in those fields!
How can you tell if a seed is heirloom?
Heirloom seeds are typically labeled on the packet, but the chances are if you’re attending a seed swap you’ll be receiving heirloom seeds. So long as you know the specific name of the seeds, such as the Mortgage Lifter tomato, you can look it up online and double check.