Monday, October 18, 2010

What are Heirloom Plants?

Before the industrialization of agriculture the mom-and-pop farms grew a seemingly endless variety of veggies, flowers, and trees.  Everyone had their favorite plants - many of which had been handed down from one generation to the next.  Neighbors talked over the back fence and shared cuttings, seeds and even whole plants with one another.  These PassAlong Plants were very successful because they already grew in that particular locale.  They were the persistent little plants that always came through - no namby pamby weenies that had to be coddled - there was no time for that.  Remember, these were generally farming families - they were busy trying to survive.  So, in their time there was no such thing as Heirloom Varieties.

Then came BIG BUSINESS.  We have to fix the plants, they are not good enough.  We need tomatoes that can be shoved in boxes and trucked half way round the world and still be red and firm; We need corn that has insecticide in it so we don't have to spray the crop - the bugs will die just from eating it.  We need rice with more vitamin A.  These Genetically Modified crops are patented by the creators, and generally will not grow true from saved seed.  In fact, many of them are also Engineered to commit suicide if you do try to save and use the seed. The odds are that you have already eaten genetically engineered food - it was introduced in the U.S. in the 1990's.

So, that takes us back to the original question:  What are Heirloom Plants?  There are several different definitions, and there are still debates about it.
  1. Any cultivar over 100 years old.
  2. Any cultivar over 50 years old.
  3. Anything grown before 1945 (the end of WWII)
  4. A cultivar that has been handed down from one family member to another over many generations.
Most authorities do agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open pollinated.  Basically, if you can save the seed and it will grow true to the mother plant it is an heirloom variety.

As to the Good vs Evil; Light Side vs. Dark Side; I will let you decide.  Do a little research - look up monoculture, go to a few websites that have information regarding monoculture vs. polyculture.  Just make sure you know who owns the site - not that anyone would want to mislead you or anything.

Now, Go get your hands dirty!  (What are doing inside on such a beautiful day anyway!)


  1. Graham Rice recently wrote about it here:

    And heirloom is defiantly no concrete thing. Liked your post

  2. What an interesting post, lots of food for thought. GM crops are a real issue here in the UK, very contentious.


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