Heirloom Seeds Part of Your Storage Plans
My wife and I have love watching the show Pawn Stars. The show takes place in Las Vegas, NV and surrounds the Harrison family business of owning, as you might guess by the title of the show, a pawn shop. The majority of the show is about people bringing their old and unique items into the shop in the hopes of selling the item to the Harrison family for some extra cash.
What my wife and I particularly love about the show are the older, rarer items that come across the television screen. Old musketoons, uncovered handwritten letters by US Presidents past, trunks full of antiques and handfuls of odd shaped gems that have been passed down through people’s families for countless generations.
I am less interested in what they are worth and more interested in the story behind the item. Who owned it, how old is it and the “man if that object could talk, the stories it could tell,” aspect to it. You are shown valuable objects that have been passed down through the years, and those objects are referred to as heirlooms.
Like the objects in the show, heirloom seeds are those seeds that have been passed down through the years from one generation to the next. Just like the antiques, family heirlooms and those items that you will see in the aforementioned show, heirloom seeds usually have a great story behind them. If you have the time I would highly recommend searching on those stories. You can immerse yourself in these wonderful tales of yore and get lost in time. They are fascinating.
Heirloom seeds are very important to us as a society. They bridge the gap from today to when our ancestors and not too distant relatives relied solely on their own skills and abilities to grow their own food. Just as important as growing their own food, they had to save the seeds from what they were growing, otherwise they could not possibly have a harvest in subsequent seasons. The internet was non existent there were no big box retail stores to go pick up seed packets, although some local general stores would carry some seeds.
Our predecessors had to do it the old fashioned way. They had to save the seeds from what they were growing every year and then pass those seeds along to their next of kin who could repeat the process. Hence, heirloom variety seeds.
About Hybrid Seeds
Unlike your great great great grandma, today you have a large list of suppliers to choose from when it comes to buying seeds. You also have a large list of choices, especially when you factor in hybrid choices. A hybrid seed is a cross pollination of two species of plants. This is done for a variety of reasons. Hybrids are developed to give the plant the ability to fight off pests or diseases, become more drought tolerant and even adapt well to different climates.
Where hybrid seeds fall short of heirlooms is the fact you can not plant a seed from a hybrid plant and expect to grow the same exact plant the next season. Although it can happen, the odds are very unlikely. The hybrid plant has the traits from its parent’s plant to give it the benefits that are being desired. They get some of one parent and some of another. This means it is senseless to save the seeds from a hybrid plant and that forces you to buy those seeds every year.
Hybrid seeds are a terrible seed to consider for long term storage, but definitely a fun seed to try in your garden if you see something different that you would like to try. Just make sure you plant your hybrid crops at least twelve feet away from your heirloom crops to ensure that no cross pollination occurs.
The benefit of heirloom seeds, beyond the great stories that are behind them, is the fact you can save the seeds from the heirloom plant that you are growing and produce the same variety of plant each season. That is why you need heirloom seeds to be a part of your storage plans. Because they will grow the same plant every year, having heirloom variety seeds will ensure that you are going to be able to grow healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs that you are familiar with, every season.
Another benefit is, heirloom seeds store well and keep for very long periods of time. When stored properly, in a cool, dry location, we are talking about many years, not a couple of seasons. This past year I was able to germinate some spinach seeds that were nine years old.
So what is a good storage location for your heirloom seeds? As mentioned earlier a cool, dry location, such as a basement would be ideal, but you will want to pick a location where there is not much fluctuation in temperature. Along with a constant (or near constant) temperature, you want the location to have as little humidity and moisture as possible. You can see why a basement works well, although you may need a dehumidifier to keep moisture levels low.
If you follow these rules you too may be able to germinate some seeds in your collection years from now and that brings me to my next point.
How Long Do They Last
Search the internet long enough and you are sure to find thousands of answers to this one question. How long will my seeds last before they will no longer germinate?
It is important to know that your heirloom seeds do not expire like milk would. When milk goes bad it’s bad and you probably should not drink it. What happens with seeds is their germination rate begins to decline over time. What once took 3 to 7 days to germinate, may now take a couple of weeks. That length of time expands until eventually, the seeds simply will not germinate.
The rate of decline for germination varies by seed variety as well. Onions have shorter time frames then save certain species of squash. A good rule of thumb is, when stored properly, your seeds should be plenty viable for well more than 2 to 5 years.
Once you start reaching that 2 to 5 year range for your seeds, you will want to make sure you grow the items that are the oldest and save some new seeds so that you continually replenish your supply. Even if you only grow one plant to accomplish this, just make sure you save plenty of the seeds.
How Do I Save Seeds
Once you have started your collection of heirloom seeds, from a supplier that you choose, you will want to learn how to save the seeds from your fruits, vegetables and herbs from one season to the next. How the seeds are saved will vary based on what you are growing. Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers are fairly easy. Pick your best fruit, extract the seeds, and let them sit in a location where they can dry out. However items like carrots and onions are not so intuitive.
Carrots for example, won’t go to seed until they have been growing for two years. That means you have to let them continually grow and harvest the seeds after the second season. A handful of carrots is all you need to harvest plenty of seeds to keep you going. However, you will have to plan accordingly, to make sure your storage needs are met for carrots and those other veggies that take a couple of years to produce seeds.
You can see with all that is written above the great benefits of using and growing your home garden from heirloom seeds. You will be using viable seeds that have survived generations and you will be able to increase your own skill set of saving the seeds once you grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs from them.
As a final note, and is the case with heirloom tomatoes, you can literally save thousands of seeds from a single plant, so be sure to pass those heirloom seeds along to friends, relatives and loved ones. You will be sure to have plenty of heirloom seeds for many years to come.
Special Thanks goes to Mike Podlesny, for allowing us to share his work with all of you. Not only has Mike shared his Heirloom Seed Storage Knowledge with us, but when we asked him for some Heirloom seeds so that we could host a giveaway, he generously offered to give us a full 1 Year Subscription to his Seeds of the Month Club. Thank you Mike!
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person as well as the creator of the Seeds of the Month Club where members receive non gmo, heirloom variety seeds every month. You can listen to Mike each week on the Vegetable Gardening Podcast where he interviews gardening industry experts.
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