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As long as I can remember, I have always had a fascination of the past. There is always something magical about looking through ancestral photographs, thinking of what days gone by must have been like, and the contrasts between past and present times. The past does live on through heirloom seeds, and passing down heirloom seed to our next generation is paramount. Sadly, In the past 100 years, an estimated half the of the world’s heirloom seeds have become extinct.   

Elephant Garlic

Gardeners prefer heirloom seeds for various reasons. Perhaps it to connect to the past, to plant the very same line of seeds that farmers planted 50 to hundreds of years before us. Seeds have been carried all over the globe, allowing the backyard gardener to grow unique varieties that are not found in stores. The pilgrims even carried heirloom seeds to their new land. Heirlooms are often preferred by gardeners because the seeds can be saved and replanted year after year, remaining true-to-type (looking just like their parents). 

 Many commercial seed distributors sell hybrid varieties. If the seed is saved from these varieties to plant the following year you will likely find yourself disappointed at a crop which is susceptible to disease, malformed, or simply won’t grow. This forces the farmer to purchase fresh seed yearly, which keeps the seed companies in business.

Please note that it is possible to cross heirloom varieties that come from the same species, causing a hybrid version which could prove to be better or potentially worse than it’s parent. For example, let’s say you are growing crookneck squash and zucchini (both are in the Cucurbita Pepo family) in your garden this year. Both plants are flowering and a bee collects pollen from your crookneck, then lands on a zucchini flower thereby transferring pollen to it. All of your vegetables will be true-to-type and show no signs of this cross, but the seeds you collect from them will not grow true-to-type the following year when planted. When planting different varieties of the same species you are planning to save it is important to protect this from happening by caging, self pollinating, isolation, or bagging flowers only on the fruits you intend to save seed from.

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