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Lynn Youngblood: Consider heirloom seeds for your garden

The Examiner

This time of year when days are filled with gray, it’s the perfect time to plan colorful gardens. At our house, seed catalogs have begun arriving with pages bursting with fruits and flowers of all colors.

Today, organically grown fruits and vegetables are becoming more easily accessible and people are exploring growing vegetables. Gardeners are also discovering the joys of heirloom gardening. No, it isn’t 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.

Lynn Youngblood

There are several reasons people believe in collecting and planting seeds from vegetables and 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 bull's-eye! Just beautiful! How about an orange, yellow, or white watermelon, or cucumbers the size and color of lemons that you pickle!

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 with and can only hint at. It seems that each time we hybridize to increase the size of the bloom, intensify the flower color, or shrink the size of a lilac bush, 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 “progress” we forgot the importance of keeping some of the finer things of life.

My daughter, Sarah, was recently visiting with her family, including her three young children. Moving from New York City to Omaha a few years ago, they are now enjoying vegetable gardening for the first time. During some downtime in front of the fireplace, I pulled out one of my favorite heirloom seed catalogs and showed it Sarah. Soon, all of the kids were piled around her and were pointing at the delicious options. Shouts of, “I want that one” or “Let’s plant this one” filled the room for hours.

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

Seed suppliers

• D. Landreth Seed Company (since 1784), oldest seed company in the United States.

• Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (since 1982).

• Kitazawa Seed Co (since 1917).

• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (since 1998).