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Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Updated on March 13, 2011

Heirloom Vegetables and Food Security

Growing heirloom vegetables increases the genetic diversity of our food supply. Many commercial vegetables are one of just a few varieties, usually selected for their consistent appearance and ability to be shipped long distance without sustaining serious damage. Unfortunately, when so much of the food supply is dependent on a few single varieties of each species, the food supply is vulnerable of one of the popular varieties turns out to be unusually susceptible to a certain pest or disease.

One example of this occurred during the Irish Potato Famine. Preserving the genetic diversity of seed potatoes is especially important because seed potatoes are essentially clones. A genetic weakness in a single strain of seed potato can wipe out the entire line. The Irish Potato Famine was caused in large part by the overuse of a single line of seed potato in Ireland, a line that unfortunately turned out to be extremely susceptible to a disease called "late blight." The resulting famine led to the loss of 20-25% of Ireland's population through starvation and immigration.

By growing heirloom vegetables, you preserve and increase the genetic diversity of our food supply, decreasing the chance of a disaster such as the Irish Potato Famine.

More Reasons To Grow Heirloom Vegetables

Heirloom varieties often taste much better than commercial varieties, because they have been selected for flavor and hardiness, not for their thick skin and regular appearance.

Many heirloom vegetables are also better adapted to local growing conditions. Many were developed specifically to handle specific types of growing conditions. For example, many heirloom varieties are more drought tolerant than common commercial varieties, which are grown under more carefully controlled conditions than the average family vegetable garden. Others may be resistant to a certain pest or disease common in the area where they were developed.

Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Heirloom tomatoes, by clayirving
Heirloom tomatoes, by clayirving

Heirloom tomatoes are one of the most popular varieties of heirloom vegetable because they offer one of the most significant improvements in taste over commercial varieties.

Heirloom squash, by Lawrence Farmer's Market
Heirloom squash, by Lawrence Farmer's Market


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    • MagicStarER profile image

      MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

      I really enjoyed looking at all the heirloom vegetable seeds, even if they are from Amazon! You did a great job on this - I am always preaching about how we are losing all the fruit and vegetable varieties that we should be preserving. For example, there used to be over 300 kinds of apples - how many do you think there are now? We are losing our food supply to greedy and monopolistic seed-suppliers, who are not only offering just a few varieties, but who are also contaminating our entire food supply and crops all over the world with genetically-modified seeds, which cause allergies, disease, and are creating super-weeds, and killing our birds, insects, and other wildlife. Also, the seeds produced by these GMO plants are usually STERILE!!! So where does that leave us? WITH NO FOOD!!!

      If we can not stop the 3 main seed companies from monopolizing our food supply and making our natural, heirloom plants become obsolete, then WE MUST ALL PLANT HEIRLOOMS! And we must save the seeds!!! Like our ancestors did.

      The same thing is happening with our farm animals. There are many, many species which are now becoming extinct. I was shocked to discover that Jersey cows (which I used to see all over the place when I was a kid growing up) are now becoming an endangered species. These heirloom species of animals are called "heritage" breeds. Anyone who has a farm should seriously consider raising some of these endangered animals.

      Thank you so much for talking about heirlooms! I am surprised that so many people say they don't know what they are. That's why we need to tell everyone why they are so important!

      Thank you so much for sharing this. You did a magnificent job! :) Love!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 8 years ago from Central United States of America

      We all need to help do this to 'grass roots' overcome Monsanto's hogging up and restricting the 'real' seeds to be reused! Thanks for lots of seeds info!

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 9 years ago from Washington, USA

      I never knew about "heirloom" seeds. Yes we need to preserve the seed diversity and once we buy a house I would love to have a backyard full of vegetables like Tomatoes, egg plants and chillies besides garden herbs. Thumbs up for a informative hub.

    • profile image

      TheSandman 9 years ago

      Great piece, now I've learned something and I'm hungry :-)

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      On the global scale, preserving heirloom seeds and propagating them are the equivalent of increasing the gene pool of giraffes and other endangered animal species.

      It's easy for us to find and grow heirloom seeds, as your Hub points out, but not so easy to introduce captive endangered animal species into the wild so that their genes can mingle with what is left.

      Yet, the same goal is in mind. Just how much do we lose by not making the effort to sustain?

      Thumbs up.