Saturday, September 22, 2007

Heirloom Seed

When I first started this entry it turned into a diatribe on agribusiness, and I soon realized that topic really needs its own blog. Here instead I just wanted to extol the virtues of heirloom seed.

I’ve been reading up again on heirloom seeds; plants that breed true to parentage. These seeds are open-pollinated, which means that unlike hybridized seed (cross pollinated for certain traits that breed true only for the first generation), heirloom fruit produces seed that can be saved and used the next growing season with perhaps even better success. I can grow vegetables from seed passed down generation to generation from strains grown 50, 100, 150 or more years in the past. I often find varieties brought over from other countries.

Have you ever bought roses at the florist that look stunning, but have no aroma? Like many plant strains, roses have been hybridized for years to achieve specific qualities; certain colors, fuller flowers, straighter stems. This allows the grower to bring to market a rose perfect in appearance. The price paid for that perfection is a flower with no smell. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. Vegetable seed we buy is often produced by the same companies that create seed for large scale farmers, which means hybridized for the grower, not the public. Vegetables are developed with the traits that take them successfully to market: uniform size, thick walls to resist crushing and bruising, etc. You get a pretty product, but what about taste? I mean, we’re supposed to eat it, not put it in a vase and water it.

We the public encourage this, by demanding (through our purchase power) 58 different brands of cereal and only three bland varieties of tomatoes: red cherry, red hot house, and roma. Heirloom seeds have a number of attractive qualities besides being able to save seeds. These “forgotten” varieties offer a large variety of flavors, shapes, colors, growing temperaments, disease resistance and hardiness.

Here are a couple of websites specializing in heirloom seeds:

Victory Seed Company
Heirloom Seeds
Tomato Bob’s Heirloom Tomatoes

Seed Savers Exchange

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