Since you are probably spending a lot of time indoors, this is the perfect time to plan your summer gardens. At our house, seed catalogs have begun arriving with pages bursting with fruits and flowers of all colors.
Organically grown fruits and vegetables are becoming more easily accessible and more people are exploring growing their own vegetables. Gardeners are also discovering the joys of heirloom gardening. No, it is not hanging your grandmother’s lace around the garden, but it is planting tomato plants with the same seed type she would have used 50 years ago.
There are several reasons why people believe in collecting and planting seeds from fruits, vegetables, and even flowers. Especially now with genetically altered foods, protecting genetically diverse plants, especially food plants, has become an important issue. If you have ever tasted an heirloom tomato, the debate is over; you will not need to know any more information. The rich, juicy flavor of an heirloom vegetable just cannot be beat.
Another good reason to save and use heirloom seeds is because looking at a box of heirloom vegetables is like looking at a box of Christmas ornaments. Red tomatoes with oranges stripes, others with purple flesh. There are apple-green eggplants, purple carrots, and scarlet red and pink beets that are circled inside like a bullseye! Just beautiful!
How about an orange, yellow, or white watermelon, or cucumbers the size and color of lemons that you pickle! I cannot even imagine how fun it would be to garden with your children this summer, reaping the rewards with them as they devour these fun delectables!
If you have ever smelled an old-fashioned lilac or rose, then you know the other reason that so many enthusiasts have turned to heirloom seed collecting. Heirloom flowers maintain the unique fragrance, which modern flowers cannot compare, they only hint at.
It seems that each time we hybridize to increase the size of the bloom, intensify the flower color, shrink the size of a lilac bush, or aim for another aspect of a plant; we lose some aspect of fragrance. Hybridization is also done for other improvements, too, like disease and temperature hardiness, but only old-fashioned varieties will have the original intense fragrance.
Heirloom gardening is nothing new – in fact, it is as old as mankind itself. Since people began to set down roots we saved seeds to plant them from one year to the next; somehow along with our “advancements” we forgot the importance of keeping some of the finer things of life.
Check out some heirloom seed companies, look at a seed rack, or maybe there are some heirloom seeds in the catalogs arriving at your door. I hope you are able to plant some heirloom plants this year and invite some colorful variety into your life.
After all, life is just too short not to eat a purple carrot!
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.