Part of what I love about gardening is the connection to the past I experience as I step away from my computer and sink into the ancient activity of tending plants. I love working with antique tools. I conjure the energy and memory of the gardeners and farmers who were first to use those tools. Important to my backwards time travel through gardening, is growing vegetables with a past.
I grow heirloom vegetables from seed. That said, I have to admit, I don’t understand every detail about how heirloom seeds are different than others. It’s pretty complex.
I know heirloom seeds are older varieties. There are several schools of thought about how long a variety needs to be around before it can be called an heirloom. Some think the seeds need a demonstrated lineage going back at least one hundred years. Others say an heirloom seed is one that has been handed down in a family from generation to generation. I personally believe that a seed can be qualified as an heirloom if it was around pre-WW2.
World war two marks the beginning of agriculture as we know it. Chemicals used in the war, soon made their way onto farms and into home gardens. The concept of “better living through science,” led to mass hybridization of plants as a way to produce more food in the most efficient manner.
Plants that were popular before WW2, have two characteristics that qualify them as heirlooms in my mind. They aren’t generally hybrids (though they can be) and they are time tested through generations.
Importantly, heirlooms are NEVER genetically modified. Safely – non-GMO.
Heirloom vegetables have more flavor. When seeds were saved harvest after harvest, and handed down over time, families would choose to save the seed from the vegetables that tasted the best. Our ancestors sometimes saved seeds because the plants were hardy or the vegetable stored well in a cold cellar. But the main reason seed was handed down and shared with neighbors and friends, was that the seed grew plants that fruited with amazing tasting vegetables. (More on this soon in a review of Chris McLaughlin’s WONDERFUL The Complete Guide to Heirloom Vegetables)
When you grow heirloom vegetables, a whole new- old- world of squash, tomatoes, peppers, (any vegetable, really) opens in a rainbow of color and flavor. Have fun and enjoy the veggie-growing ride.
Thanks for the top photo! http://www.flickr.com/photos/dumbonyc/
Thanks for the tomato image! ttp://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/