Seed exchanges and heirloom gardening are growing trends among gardeners seeking an alternative to common commercially available seeds. Experts estimate that as many as 98 percent of seed varieties available in 1910 are now extinct. To prevent further loss, the surviving species must be cultivated and the seeds preserved. Growing fruits, vegetables and even flowers from heirloom seeds is not unlike any other gardening pursuit, in that success depends on the right combination of soil, water, sunlight and fertilization. Many gardeners today seek out heirloom varieties specifically to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or chemically treated products. Getting involved in heirloom gardening can be both fun and rewarding, and good for the planet to boot.
What are Heirloom Seeds?
Heirloom seeds are those obtained from plant species that, when planted, will produce the same plant and a subsequent generation of growable seeds. These seeds are openly pollinated and the result of natural selection rather than genetic manipulation. Most seeds sold today are hybrid or genetically modified varieties, developed in a laboratory to be more hardy, produce larger yields and look more appealing. The seeds produced by hybrid species, if there are any, are not usable to grow future generations of plants.
Utah Seed Exchanges and Community Groups Dedicated to Heirloom Gardening
Gardeners can obtain heirloom seeds from many Internet sites, but locally based seed exchanges are becoming popular. Seed exchange members share their own extra heirloom seeds with other members, get together to sample the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor, serve as a source for banking seeds for future planting years and preserve plant species. Community groups dedicated to seed preservation and heirloom gardening are eager to help spread the word about this important agricultural trend.
Successfully Growing Plants from Organic, Heirloom Seeds
A good general approach for sprouting your heirloom seeds is to begin indoors in small pots or foam cups. Use sterile, organic soil and place a few seeds about 1/8” deep in the center of the pot. Keep the soil moist and ensure they get plenty of sunlight. Thin the seedlings after a couple of weeks, if necessary. Transplant the seedlings to your garden in accordance with the type of plant and the weather.
Getting Started with Heirloom Gardening
Start your heirloom garden with the most familiar and friendly species — heirloom tomatoes. These varietals have irregular shapes, sizes and colors, and may not be as hardy as Early Girl or Better Boy, but their depth of flavor will transport you back to the tomatoes of your youth. Sprout seeds indoors in early April, then transplant seedlings to the garden six to eight weeks later, after the frosts are gone. Heirloom tomatoes need more space than hybrid varieties (plant at least three feet apart) and must be trellised to allow sufficient air circulation, improve yield and resist insect damage.
As people become more dedicated to healthy food and non-GMO cultivation, this trend is bound to gain momentum. Millcreek Gardens in Salt Lake City carries a full line of garden supplies to help you with all your gardening endeavors. Make seed exchanges and heirloom gardening a part of your life, for improved health and tasty results!