Sunday, June 5, 2016

Why Plant Heirloom/Heritage Plants and Seeds

By Steven Depolo from Grand Rapids, MI, USA Heirloom Tomatoes, Carrots, Potatoes
To be honest, this article almost ended up being part of our series on preventing garden pest naturally. Then I realized that just highlighting how heritage plants and heirloom seeds were a natural form of pest control was doing them a great injustice and decided to expand this piece into a slightly more comprehensive article on the advantages of heirloom plant varieties.

What are Heirloom or Heritage Plants?

There really is no complete answer to this question as it seems that different organizations and almost every farmer and gardener has their own ideas as to what makes a plant variety a heritage plant.

As a general rule, though you can consider any plant variety that has occurred naturally, from open pollination and survived to reproduce itself, over several generations to be a heritage plant.

By Smithsonian (subsidiary of department of education)
Some will argue that hybrids of any type shouldn’t be considered as heritage, but to my way of thinking time and nature are the tests, not the purity of the gene pool. I haven’t verified the history, independently, but a friend with a Doctorate in Horticulture told me that at the time Columbus came to the New World there were less than 20 varieties of chilies known.

Look at the wide variety of peppers that we enjoy today. They all are descendants of those originals and had to be hybrids at one time. Now many of them are heirloom.

Pest and Disease Resistant

One of the biggest advantages that heritage plants have is that they have, over time proven themselves to be both disease and pest resistant. Nature is a wonderful thing and by the simple processes of survival and procreation, it is constantly improving breeds and eliminating weak traits from species.

Plants have developed natural resistance to the diseases most prevalent in their environments and strategies for dealing with pests ranging from toxins to symbiotic relationships with predatory insects.

For the gardener, this means less need for human intervention on every level, especially if you choose not only heritage plants, but those native to your geographical area.


As hard as it may be to believe it wasn’t really until the rubber tomato and store bought canned goods were developed that the agricultural focus began to shift from quality and nutrition to quantity.

Until that time most farming was done more on a local level and people were more concerned with the taste of food rather than it having a shelf life that was measured in weeks or months rather than days.

People who didn’t raise their own produce bought it from local farmers and pretty much anything that wasn’t eaten immediately was canned, pickled or otherwise preserved at home, for later use.

Saving Money and the Planet

If you still need more reasons to plant Heirloom Seeds, consider the fact that by restraining yourself, just a little, that this year’s crops will provide you with plenty of seeds for next year and that those plants will be even better adapted to your garden. No more buying seeds each year and fighting the same battles over and over again.
And lastly, by planting and raising heritage and heirloom varieties of plants you are helping to preserve the biological diversity that our very future could depend on. More than once in history, we have been taught diversity is security and that it is foolish to narrow down the options that nature provides us.

Whether from blight, as in the Irish Potato Famine, climate or man-made disasters as we have seen repeatedly, it is only by having a diverse and hardy bios that we can help assure our own future.

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