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Vegetarians in Paradise
Heirloom Gardening

Heirlooms, the Garden Treasury

Completely Revised and Updated March 1, 2016

Vegetarians who treasure the moments spent in the vegetable garden can find even greater treasures with heirloom seeds that may be as old as their grandfathers. Anyone who has lovingly tended the plants for that specially awaited day to pluck a ripe tomato or a squash off the vine can agree that homegrown heirloom vegetables have unmatchable richness of flavor, sweetness, and juiciness, but wait--it can get even better.

When you discover the many unique features of heirloom varieties, you'll surely be hooked. You'll find seeds that have a long history, a pedigree, so to speak. You may be growing purple string beans, tomatoes of unusual shapes and colors, little round white eggplants, and beans for drying and soup-making that your great grandmother might have grown in her garden.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, placed such high value on his garden, he sought out fruits and vegetables brought to America by explorers from all parts of Europe. Today, visitors to Jefferson's home in Monticello can see varieties of vegetable and flowers that Jefferson himself once grew. Some of the seeds planted at Monticello may be almost 200 years old, an awesome concept and a perfect example of treasured heirlooms. Vegetables

Each year, in December and January, commercial seed companies sell attractive, relatively inexpensive seed packets to home gardeners through seed catalogs and garden shops. Anything from root vegetables and beans to eggplant, tomatoes, and okra are available. Though these catalogs are filled with appealing color photographs of your favorite vegetables, what they're selling are hybrid seeds, seeds that have actually been bred for the commercial grower.

Hybridized plants are the result of a cross between two varieties. For instance, two varieties of tomatoes are chosen because each has particular traits the grower wants to cultivate. When seeds are taken from the cross-pollinated tomato, these seeds will not be able to reproduce this crossed variety, but will revert back to one of the parents. Heirlooms, which are open-pollinated plants, on the other hand, reproduce themselves generation after generation.

Commercial growers who grow only hybridized crops risk the danger of a fungus or plant disease destroying their entire crop. It happened in the famous Irish potato famine in the 1840s where farmers were growing only one variety of potatoes. Disease destroyed their entire crop and millions of people died. Their variety of potato had no resistance to that particular disease, one of the pitfalls of hybridized vegetable crops. With the diversity of plant varieties offered by preserving heirlooms, many plants develop resistance to certain pests, preventing the total crop loss experienced in Ireland.

The commercial grower wants to breed fruits and vegetables that are uniform in size, ripen all at once, have the same color and shape, and that can be transported to market without spoilage. Invariably, it's the flavor that's lost. We've all purchased fruits and vegetables from the supermarket that tempted us with their bright colors and plump appearance but have too often given us that flavor let-down. The home gardener, too, may not always have success with these hybrid seeds and may feel discouraged.

Flavor is not the only feature lost with breeding hybrids. Thousands of varieties of unique vegetables and fruits have been lost to us. In the early 1900s nearly 7,000 varieties of apples existed in this country. Today, that number has shrunken to less than 1,000. Unfortunately, a similar pattern exists for most of our fruit and vegetable varieties.

Consider, instead, ferreting out companies that specialize in heirloom seeds. Many of these seeds are of varieties that are more than150 years old, such as lettuces with exotic names like Rouge d'Hiver and Little Gem. Some heirloom seeds come from other parts of the world and have enriched our table with such treats as exotic peppers from South America; Mache, a delicate variety of lettuce from Europe; or Pintong Long, bright purple, long thin eggplant from Taiwan.

Vegetables Preserving heirloom seeds gives people a sense of history and cultural heritage. By growing heirloom plants and saving the seeds, we can all participate in saving many varieties from extinction and preserving plants with special genetic traits. In becoming a seed saver of heirlooms, we can pass on the rich history with which many plants are endowed. If you can learn the origins of your seeds, pass this heritage on to your family members and share these seeds with other growers of heirlooms. In this way it is possible to save special varieties not commonly grown.

Today, many of us are concerned about the widespread practice of genetic engineering and the unknown consequences of genetically modified foods. Taking up heirloom gardening reassures us that we can enjoy vegetables and fruits that are pure, natural, unchanged, and in complete harmony with nature.

Heirloom seeds have special features that distinguish them from hybrid seeds:

  • The variety of seed should be able to reproduce itself. For example, one variety of tomato that has been saved for generation after generation of plantings will produce that same variety of tomato.
  • Antique seeds are always self-pollinated or open-pollinated and will produce plants with the same traits planting after planting, generation after generation. Hybrid seeds will not be able to reproduce plants with exactly the same traits.
  • The variety of seed must have been introduced at least 50 years ago, though some heirloom gardeners say they must be at least 100 years old. In recent years, however, varieties with shorter histories are considered heirloom because of their uniqueness.
  • The particular cultivar, or variety, must have a special history. Perhaps one can trace the plant's origins to a particular region of the country. Or, perhaps seeds have been saved by farming families who can recall that their great grandparents brought them from Europe.

Today there is a growing interest in preserving heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables along with their histories. Among the groups that have made special efforts to collect and save heirloom seeds are the Amish, the Mennonites, and Native Americans. There are seed companies devoted exclusively to saving and selling heirloom seeds and plants. Many universities are developing ecology departments that take a special interest in the preservation of heirloom seeds.

Tomatoes Many of us don't have the time or opportunity to grow our own heirloom vegetables, but we can make an effort to support those who do. In recent years, there are many small farmers who grow heirloom tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and eggplants and bring them to the shoppers who frequent farmers' markets.

What a delight to introduce the family to varieties of tomatoes with unique shapes and colors never seen in the supermarket! Unmatchable sweetness, fragrance, and juiciness are the outstanding features that beckon us to choose historical tomatoes over the hybrids. By seeking out these farmers and enjoying their treasures, you're helping to preserve old time varieties and encouraging farmers to sustain the tradition of the heirloom garden.

Heirloom Organizations and Resources

Below is a list of organizations that are devoted to saving heirloom seeds. Some are seed banks only and focus on preserving seeds for their historical value. Others sell heirloom seeds to encourage gardeners to join in their efforts and offer opportunities for seed exchanges between members.

Aunt Martha's Garden Heirloom Seed Company http://www.homestead.com/prosites-debbieoo/martha.html
Offers hundreds of varieties of heirloom seeds that are open-pollinated and non hybrid.
731 E. Valley Rd., Willits, CA 95490

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds http://rareseeds.com/
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company's catalog displays over 1200 unique, open-pollinated heirloom seeds from 66 countries, including many that they have collected themselves. Started in 1998 by Jere Gettle, as a means to preserve rare seeds, the company has grown to become one of America's largest heirloom seed sources, and ships seeds around the world.
2278 Baker Creek Rd., Mansfield, MO 65704

Botanical Interests http://www.botanicalinterests.com
Botanical Interests is a family owned seed company that offers over 500 varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds for the home gardener. They carry many heirloom and gourmet seeds, in addition to offering organic seed. Their goal is to inspire and educate gardeners by merging art, gardening and science. The seed packaging offers beautiful botanical illustrations, as well as a plethora of information, including recipe ideas, fun facts and in-depth planting information. Seeds are available for purchase at independent garden centers and health food stores throughout the United States, or you can buy online and have your order shipped anywhere in the USA.
660 Compton Street
Broomfield, CO 80020

Bountiful Gardens http://www.bountifulgardens.org/
Bountiful Gardens sells untreated open-pollinated seed of heirloom quality for vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains, green manures, compost and carbon crops. This non-profit organization is a project of Ecology Action which does garden research and publishes many books, information sheets, and research papers, some in other languages. Ecology Action operates a research mini-farm in Willits, CA and promotes the GROW BIOINTENSIVE(TM) method of food production that teaches people in 130 countries around the world to grow food and build soil with less work, water, and energy by natural methods.
18001 Shafer Ranch Rd., Willits, CA 95490

Garden Edibles http://www.gardenedibles.com
Grows heirloom garden edibles and sells heirloom vegetable seeds imported from Italy that include a wide variety of each vegetable. Featured products spotlight several varieties of zucchini including light green, round squashes called Zucchini Tondo Chiaro Di Nizza that are ideal for stuffing.
4335 Winnetka Ave., #126, Winnetka, CA 91306

Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl/index.php
Aims to conserve and make available vegetable varieties that are not widely available. Maintains a collection, mainly of European varieties. Over the decades many varieties have been dropped from popular seed catalogs. The collection contains many of these but also some landraces and a large number of family heirloom varieties that have never been in a catalog.
Garden Organic Ryton
Coventry, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, CV8 3LG

Garden State Heirloom Seed Society http://www.historyyoucaneat.org/
Garden State Heirloom Seed Society is a membership organization of gardeners, farmers and avocational historians. While the gardeners reap the benefit of eating vegetables and herbs with a superior taste, the farmers have the advantage of being able to offer these same vegetables and herbs to their customers. GSHSS works with living history farms, historical sites, and museums to provide them with seeds appropriate for the era they portray.
PO BOX 15, Delaware, NJ 07833

Heirloom Seeds http://www.heirloomseeds.com/
Located in South Western Pennsylvania, this family run seed house has been in the mail order business since 1988. All of the varieties offered are open pollinated (non hybrid) and have been grown by generations of backyard gardeners. They have added herb seeds to their catalog after many requests from customers. Many of the seeds they offer have come from backyard gardeners whose families have saved the seeds for generations, throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and overseas.
PO Box 245, West Elizabeth, PA 15088-0245

Heritage Harvest Seed http://www.heritageharvestseed.com/
Heritage Harvest Seed is a mail order business specializing in rare and endangered varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs. To preserve heirloom varieties and offer the seed for sale to the public, they track down rare seed sources and delve into the histories of each variety.
Box 40, RR 3, Carman, Manitoba R0G 0J0

High Mowing Seeds http://www.highmowingseeds.com
Sells 100% organic, non-GMO seeds for growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, and cover crops. Now sells over 600 heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid varieties of vegetables, fruit, herb, and flower seeds for wholesale and retail sales. Seed collections, gift ideas, and seed catalogs available. Owner Tom Stearns says, "I see seeds as one of the best educational tools."
76 Quarry Rd., Wolcott, VT 05680

Kokopelli Seed Foundation http://www.kokopelli-seed-foundation.com
Kokopelli Seed Foundation was created in December 2003 by Dominique Guillet to sow in the heart of the people of North America the seed-message of Association Kokopelli in Europe: access to open-pollinated seeds is the only way to alleviate hunger and to promote, in a sustainable way, food security. In the US, and elsewhere in the world, they are promoting the creation of a network of voluntary organic gardeners devoted to the production of heritage seeds for charitable donation.
59 Westland Ave., Boston, MA 02115

KUSA Seed Society http://www.ancientcerealgrains.org/
KUSA is a nonprofit organization devoted to saving rare and endangered cereal crops, grain-legumes, oilseeds, and other edible seeds.
P.O. Box 761, Ojai, CA 93024

Landis Valley Museum Heirloom Seed Project http://www.landisvalleymuseum.org/
Landis Valley Museum is home to the Heirloom Seed Project. Established in the mid 1980s, the Heirloom Seed Project's focus is on seed preservation, seeds from heirloom varieties of vegetable herbs and ornamentals that have historical significance for Pennsylvania Germans from 1750 to 1940.
2451 Kissel Hill Rd., Lancaster, PA 17601

Landreth Seed Company http://www.landrethseeds.com/
The D. Landreth Seed Company, the fifth oldest corporation in America, was founded in 1784. For more than 200 years, the Landreth Catalogues, Rural Registers and Almanacs introduced and chronicled the development of seeds, many of which are now heirlooms. Among its many historic claims is the fact that the company sold seed to every American president from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt. This historic company offers an assortment of old and open-pollinated vegetables. Bloomsdale, the Landreth family home, had the best collection of trees in the United States. At one time, there were over 1200 species of deciduous and evergreen trees, some of which are still living.
60 East High Street, Bldg. #4, New Freedom, PA 17349

Native Seeds/SEARCH http://www.nativeseeds.org
A non profit organization whose mission is to conserve, distribute, and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives, and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and Northwest Mexico.
526 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705

Organic Seed Alliance http://www.seedalliance.org
A nonprofit public charity that supports the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. Accomplishes its goals through collaborative education and research programs with organic farmers and other seed professionals.
P.0. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368

Rancho Gordo http://www.ranchogordo.com
This exceptional farm, located in Napa, California, specializes in heirloom seeds for numerous, non-hybridized varieties of beans that originated in Latin America and South America. Also available are quinoa, amaranth, dried chiles and chile powders, dried corn, Mexican oregano, and Mexican cinnamon. Also available is their cookbook Heirloom Beans.
Phone: 707-259-1935
e-mail: customerservice@ranchogordo.com

Renee's Garden http://www.reneesgarden.com
This seed line is Renee's personal selection of new, exciting and unusual seed choices of time-tested heirlooms, the best international hybrids and fine open-pollinated varieties. She harvests and uses the vegetables and herbs in her kitchen to choose the most delicious. Individual packets offer beautiful watercolor portraits, with personally written descriptions, complete growing instructions, a quick-view planting chart, growing tips, harvesting information and cooking ideas.
6116 Highway 9, Felton, CA 95018

Salt Spring Seeds http://www.saltspringseeds.com/
Since 1987 they have supplied seeds to farmers and gardeners, promoting organic growing, and encouraging people to save their own seeds. Their stock includes grains, beans, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, All seeds are untreated, open-pollinated and non-GMO. They grow all their own seeds and sell only their most recent harvest. They supply seeds for the Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada.Due to Customs Regulations they no longer ship orders to the United States.
Box 444, Ganges P.O., Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 2W1, Canada

Sandhill Preservation Center http://sandhillpreservation.com
Linda and Glenn Drown and their two sons are on a mission to preserve genetic resources by saving and making available vegetable, herb, grain, flower, and specialty seeds of heirloom varieties. One of their specialties is a surprising assortment of sweet potato varieties. Catalogs are available.

Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada http://www.seedsanctuary.com/
A charitable organization dedicated to the health and vitality of the earth through the preservation and promotion of heritage seeds. They are committed to maintaining, evaluating and keeping databases for all the edible, medicinal and useful crops that can be grown in Canada. They are a learning center and network encouraging local food and seed production.
P.O. Box 444 Ganges, Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 2W1, Canada

Seed Savers Exchange http://www.seedsavers.org
Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange is a membership organization with an annual membership fee and three annual membership publications. One of those annual publications, Seed Savers Yearbook makes available (only to SSE's more than 800 members) the seeds of more than 11,000 rare varieties of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Each year members offer nearly twice as many vegetable varieties as are available from all of the mail-order seed catalogs in both the U.S. and Canada.
3076 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101

Seeds of Diversity (formerly Heritage Seed Program) http://www.seeds.ca
Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to the conservation, documentation and use of public-domain non-hybrid plants of Canadian significance. Our 1400 members from coast to coast are gardeners, farmers, teachers, scientists, agricultural historians, researchers and seed vendors. Together they grow, propagate and distribute over 1900 varieties of vegetables, fruit, grains, flowers and herbs. They are a living gene bank.Formerly known as the Heritage Seed Program, a project of the Canadian Organic Growers since 1984, Seeds of Diversity Canada is now an independent charitable corporation operated by a volunteer board of directors. Thei work is funded mainly by membership fees and private donations.
P.O. Box 36, Station Q, decoranToronto, Ontario M4T 2L7 Canada

Skyfire Garden Seeds "This is a mom-and-pop seed company. We do try to send your seeds to you within two business days of receiving the order. However, there are four miles of dirt road between our farm and the post office. If it rains, it usually isn't practical to go to town. We also try for energy efficiency, so we drive as little as possible. (In addition, we generate our own electricity with solar panels and a wind generator.) "

Their goals are to make heirloom seeds and rare varieties more available, to help gardeners find varieties that will tolerate very hot summers, and to provide older, standard varieties that have been favorites for years.
1313 23rd Rd., Kanopolis, KS 67454-9225

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com/index.html
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a source for heirloom seeds and other open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds with an emphasis on vegetables, flowers, and herbs that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region.
P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117

Southern Seed Legacy http://www.uga.edu/ebl/ssl/
Southern Seed Legacy (SSL) strives to reverse the erosion of plant genetic diversity and cultural knowledge in the American South by encouraging and supporting local seed saving seed exchange networks and in situ conservation.
c/o Agarian Connections
10 Legacy Rd., Crawford, GA 30630

Southside Preservation Association http://www.southsidepreservation.com/
SPA is an organization dedicated to not only the preservation of vintage architecture, but also to the propagation and re-introduction of heirloom plants to modern gardeners. They are seed-savers and would like to communicate with others.
1519 Lipscomb St., Fort Worth, TX 76104

Sow True Seed http://www.sowtrue.com
Sells open-pollinated, heirloom and organic seed varieties for home gardeners, market growers, and seed savers. Available are vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, books, tools, and supplies. Specializing in traditional favorites of Southern Appalachia and the greater South of the United States. Catalog available
P.O. Box 18508, Asheville, NC 28814

Sustainable Seed Company http://www.SustainableSeedCo.com
Over 900 varieties of rare organic heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers, native wildflowers and grains. 100% USA grown. Complete line of books, seed saving supplies, DVDs and organic fertilizers. Working to preserve horticultural history with rare information on varieties, including scans and photos from historic seed catalogs.
P. O. Box 636, Petaluma, CA 94952
Phone: 707-703-1242 or Toll free: 877-620-SEED
e-mail: Support@SustainableSeedCo.com

Synergy Seeds http://www.synergyseeds.com
The Synergy Seed Exchange is the educational and marketing wing of their small family farm. Since 1982 they have focused on heirloom seed preservation and production, ranking in the top dozen of all North American seed companies for unique and rare varieties.
P.O. Box 415, Willow Creek CA 95573

The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants http://www.monticello.org/chp
Many people may not be aware that Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener who devoted hours to collecting unique food plants from other parts of the world. At Monticello, his now historic home, visitors can appreciate the abundant gardens and can view many of the varieties he collected.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, established at Monticello in 1987, collects, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. The program centers on Thomas Jefferson's horticultural interests and the plants he grew at Monticello, but covers the broad history of plants cultivated in America by including varieties documented through the nineteenth century, and choice North American plants, a group of special interest to Jefferson himself.

The Garden Shop at Monticello, open daily from late March through October, and its companion in the Monticello Online Shop, offer a broad range of historic plants and seeds as well as books, reproduction flower pots, and related items.
P.O. Box 316, Charlottesville, VA 22902-0316

Topanga Green http://topangagreen.com
Located deep in beautiful Topanga Canyon in Southern California, this grower is a licensed certified organic nursery and family micro-farm. Grows and sells heirloom tomato seedlings, assorted herb and flower starts, strawberry plants, and heirloom vegetables.
1475 Greenleaf Canyon, Topanga, CA 90290
Phone: 310-455-4215
e-mail: topangagreen@mac.com or riverday@mac.com

Victory Seed Company http://www.victoryseeds.com
Currently has hundreds of open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties in stock and ready to ship. Unlike most seed companies that purchase all of their seed stock and repackage, they actually do farm and what seed we don't raise is obtained from a network of carefully selected growers. Instead of seeds that are packaged ahead of time, their seeds are received, quality checked, and stored until their sale.They typically package orders as they are received.
P.O. Box 192, Molalla, OR 97038

Heirloom Books

Books on heirloom gardening are invaluable guides. Your local library may be a great resource to get you started. Here are just a few we can recommend:

The Art of Saving Heirloom Seeds by Jim Bonham, Self published, 2011 Kindle only

The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables: the 100 Easiest-to-Grow, Tastiest-to-Eat Vegetables for Your Garden by Marie Iannotti, Timber Press, Portland/London, 2012

The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough, Alpha-Penguin Group, 2011

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables by Chris McLaughlin, Alpha, 2010

The Edible Heirloom Garden by Rosalind Creasy, Periplus Editions, 1999

Gardening with Heirloom Seeds: Tried-and-True Flowers, Fruits, & Vegetables for a New Generation by Lynn Coulter, University of North Carolina Press, 2006

Heirloom Country Gardens: Timeless Treasures for Today's Gardeners by Sarah Wolfgang Heffner, Rodale, 2000

Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday's Plants for Today's Gardens (AgriLife Research and Extension Service) by Dr. William C. Welch, PhD, Greg Grand, Felder Rushing and Ms. Cynthia W. Mueller, Texas A&M University Press, 2011

The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally by Jere and Emilee Gettle and Meghan Sutherland, Hyperion, 2011

Heirloom Seeds and Their Keepers: Marginality and Memory in the Conservation of Biological Diversity by Virginia D. Nazarea, University of Arizona Press, 2005

The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World's Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman, Bloomsbury USA, 2008

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: a Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History by William Woys Weaver, Owl Publishing Company, 1999

The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel, Rodale Press, 1988

The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower's Guide: Steve Sando's 50 Favorite Varieties by Steve Sando, Timber Press, 2011

Restoring American Gardens: an Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940 by Denise Wiles Adams, Timber Press, 2004

Seed Saving for the Organic Gardener (Organic Gardening Guides) by Martin Anderson, Self published, 2013

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth and Ken Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange, 2002

The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2012

Smith & Hawken: 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden by Carolyn J. Male, Workman, 1999

Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables: a Complete Guide to the Best Historic and Ethnic Varieties by Benjamin Watson, Houghton Mifflin, 1996

Heirloom Articles

"Heirloom and Heritage Seeds," Green Living Tips http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/130/1/Heirloom-and-heritage-seeds.html

"Heirloom Vegetables," Backyard Gardener http://www.backyardgardener.com/article/heirloom.html

"Heirloom Vegetables," The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC1255.htm

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