Spring is on its way and we are getting into one of my favourite seasons - seed season! This is also at the same time as maple syrup season, but I will save that for another blog. For now we are talking about seeds. I wrote about garden planning in a previous post Dreaming of Green Grass and Gardening. Once you have planned what you are going to grow, it’s time to order some seeds and then get into starting them. Now selecting seeds seems like a simple task, and it can be depending on what your goals are. Hell you can even get seeds at the dollar store now! They’re everywhere! But there are a few things to keep in mind when making your seed selection.
First off, I want to state how important your seed selection is. This is your food your growing! Your source of nourishment. If dollar store seeds are all you can afford at the time, have at them. But if you can, try and do some research on your seeds. Check out the seed company, where the seeds come from, what kind of seeds they are. I am not just talking about what species, but are they heirloom or hybrid? What is the difference you may ask? Well buckle up because I’m going to tell you right now! The best example is the tomato. When you go to the grocery store, how many different types of tomatoes so you see? Often you see the main four - Hot house, Roma, Cherry and “on the vine.” These are generally hybrid tomatoes. Hybrid plants are created when breeders cross pollinate different species of one plant to another to make a… you guessed it, hybrid. This is done to create an offspring that combines the best growing and production attributes of each parent plant. Attributes such as bigger fruit, improved disease resistance, tougher skin to prevent bruising, and higher yields. Hybrid plants are not genetically modified. They are carefully bred using a process that has been used for many years. Because these plants are hybrid, often the second generation are not as viable. It is often not recommended to save the seeds of hybrid plants. So most grocery stores carry these four types of tomatoes as they are easy to grow and have the best yield. Now what if I told you there are actually more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes being actively cultivated, and more than 15,000 known varieties. Oh ya. That’s a lot more than the 4 that are presented to you at the store! There are brown, striped, yellow, orange and even purple tomatoes in all shapes and sizes. What are heirloom cultivars? Heirloom cultivars are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation and are tried, tested, and true. These are the seeds that have been grown for at least 50 years and are open-pollinated or self-pollinating. You can also save the seeds of heirloom tomatoes to use next year so that there is no need to buy them every year. There is a movement happening where people are trying to preserve these heirloom varieties so that they can be passed down to more generations. Otherwise we will only have those four tomatoes until the end of time. How boring.
Where do you buy heirloom seeds? Many greenhouses and garden centres will offer heirloom varieties. They are not much more than the hybrid cultivars. Fifty cents to a dollar a pack at most. BUT if you save your seeds, you won’t have to spend anymore money on seeds! In the long run, it ends up being cheaper. Many seed companies that send out annual seed catalogues include heirloom seeds as well. I received my OSC seed catalogue and jumped with joy. They not only include heirloom varieties, but also organic! And they get delivered to my door. Perfect for lazy gardeners, such as myself. You can find local seed swap groups online. These are great if you already have seeds saved and are looking to add some new varieties. Some public libraries also have seed libraries that you can contribute to and also select from. Another great resource is Seeds of Diversity. They are a Canadian nonprofit group that have made it their mission to search out, preserve, perpetuate, study and encourage the cultivation of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops. They have a membership program that includes a seed exchange program and an annual magazine. They also help educate the pubic about all the different varieties, how to grow them, and how to save your own seeds. Heirlooms are a great way to add diversity to your vegetable garden, as well as have your own little piece of history. By definition, heirloom seeds have to have been grown for at least 50 years. They are vintage seeds!!!
Other than the fascinating history and massive variety, why heirloom over hybrid? Hybrid cultivars are bred for better yield and better shelf life. With that, there tends to be a sacrifice in flavour and nutritional value. If you have ever had an heirloom tomato compared to a hot house tomato, you will immediately understand. The freshness and flavour are night and day. Nutritionally, there are studies that show the comparison of vegetables and grains grown in the 1950’s compared to now and the difference is astounding. Some studies showing a 50% decline in vitamins and minerals from the 50’s to now. Now don’t get me wrong, hybrids are still a good choice for your garden. I have a few hybrids that I still plant every year. There are certain vegetables that I haven’t found heirloom varieties for, so I grow the hybrid. You have to choose whatever suits you and your garden set up.
Now if you are reading this, chances are you are thinking about growing your own vegetables or you have already started. You have already taken a step in the right direction. By growing your own food (or purchasing from farmers markets or local CSAs if a garden is not in your future) you are already taking a step away from the industrial farming scene. A grocery chain will not notice the loss of one customer, but a local farmer will definitely notice a new customer. Buy local and support a local farmer! A huge plus about growing your own, or purchasing locally regardless if it is hybrid or heirloom, is the freshness. Many times grocery produce is picked when green and will ripen on the truck. This also leads to a loss in taste and nutrition. So whatever you choose to plant, you are already getting something far superior to grocery store produce. If you do choose heirloom then you are also adding that level of diversity in your garden. You get to have your piece of history that has been cherished and nurtured as much as grandmas china or that secret family cake recipe. You also get to show your family and friends your cool candy striped beets and purple tomatoes. Whatever you choose to plant, plant away! Make it grow! Show the system who’s boss! Eat like a champ! Do it! Do it yourself, for yourself.
What are your favourite seeds to plant? Have you ever tried heirloom seeds? Share your gardening stories below in the comments.