June 2nd is Heirloom Seeds DayMay 15th, 2012 by Craig Mullins
June 2nd is Heirloom Seeds Day, a day to celebrate and honor the beauty and history of heirloom seeds.
Simply put, heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, meaning that if properly saved, they will produce the same variety year after year. Hybrid seeds, in contrast, either won’t grow or will revert back to the parent plants.
For farmers and professional gardeners, it’s imperative that heirloom seeds are kept so that if problems develop with their hybrid variety, there is an original to go back to, and so new and improved hybrids can be created.
Aside from remaining “true to form” year after year, heirloom seeds must also meet an age qualification. While most gardeners and farmers believe that heirloom seed varieties should be at least 50 years old, some argue that heirloom seeds can be younger than that as long as they are truly open-pollinated.
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, heritage fruit (Australia), or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in North America and Europe over the last decade.
Before the industrialization of agriculture, a much wider variety of plant foods were grown for human consumption. In modern agriculture in the industrialized world, most food crops are now grown in large, monocultural plots. In order to maximize consistency, few varieties of each type of crop are grown. These varieties are often selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. Heirloom gardening is a reaction against this trend. In the Global South, heirloom plants are still widely grown, for example in the home gardens of South and Southeast Asia.
Fun Facts About Heirloom Seeds:
- Heirlooms adapt over time to their surrounding climate and soil.
- Due to their “pure” genetics, heirloom seeds are often resistant to local pests, diseases, and extreme weather.
- Heirloom plants are also natural, in the sense that they have never been treated by any type of pesticide or chemical.
- Heirlooms seeds in America can be traced back to the early 1900s, however most growers stick to the theory that heirloom seeds (vegetables) were first introduced in 1951.
While there are good reasons to use 1951 as a cut-off, many heirloom gardeners focus on varieties that date from the 1920s and earlier. A few, especially those re-creating World War II Victory Gardens, add introductions from the 1920s, 1930s, and the early 1940s. [source]
- Some experts believe that certain heirlooms are actually traditional Native American crops that are pre-Columbian.
Happy Heirloom Seeds Day! Do you have a favorite variety of heirloom vegetable? Here at Mullins Farms we’re partial to heirloom tomatoes and corn. We’d love to hear about your favorite heirloom seeds!