Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Why bother growing heritage/heirloom seeds?



I shall tell you why :)
When folks get into gardening, they start off with "easy" vegetables and fruit, if there is such a thing. Highly bred seeds, F1s, bred to give maximum yield and reliability. As they get keener and more interested, the search is on to find something maybe a little different, something with an interesting history, something gleaned or swapped from a friend. The internet has made all sorts of seeds available worldwide too, and at the click of a button, you can have a little slice of history delivered right through your letterbox. All well and good. These seeds get sown, nurtured, start to crop..........that's where the problem starts, or rather the perceived problem.
These seeds are natural seeds. Saved and sorted down through generations of growers, from times when the yields expected by some of their vegetables today were unheard of, or considered unobtainable. People grew a wide variety of vegetables to see them through the whole year, maybe having enough surplus to preserve for over winter, or towards harder times. Seasonal eating was the order of the day, and several varieties of one type of vegetable were grown, to crop at intervals over a longer period. The yields are smaller with heritage varieties, as that's how plants are *meant* to be; not overbred monstrosities yielding enough of one single crop and type of crop to sink a small battle ship........................ You will never get a comparable crop form a heritage variety, compared to a F1, but why would you want to?
With the modern F1 seeds, bred for maximum yield, the vegetables are all ready at once - runner beans anyone? Courgettes? I rest my case LOL. There are a manic few days of harvesting, picking, chopping, topping and tailing, freezing (runner beans? Just don't...............yuck)
For me, the joy of growing heritage varieties is manageability - several types of old beans cropping over a good few weeks; old varieties of squash with fascinating names, conjuring up images of times past; leeks that mature at different times, even though they are all the same variety, planted out at the same time; tomatoes to pick right through the summer into October.......... how nature intended it, no?
As well as the picking fresh issue, there should be no huge gluts to deal with;on various gardening etc forums, I read of folk run ragged trying to get everything prepared for preserving, stuff left to rot and fester as they have no time to do it all. They can't give it away - others have the same problem with bean overload......... Surely it would be better to forego the gluts and eat little and often of a greater variety?
A case in instance - the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. I've grown these for many years, and they have grown in status as more folks become aware of the history behind them - the Cherokees taking them with them when they were forced off their homelands. Now, with the best will in the world, I could never describe this as a high yielding bean, per plant. The trick with these, if you want a good sized crop is to plant many plants. Otherwise, pick them when they are green, over two or three days to get a meal's worth - they keep very well in the fridge over that small time period wrapped in a damp tea towel. Mine are over now, the vines withering on the poles, the last of the beans were saved for seed for next year, lovely little shiny black packages of promise for late spring sowing.
I don't want a freezer full of soggy, insipid beans mid-winter; I want fresh, vital, nutritious beans *in their season*. In winter, I want the winter veg - sprouts, parsnips, leeks, kales, cabbages........... Likewise , I wouldn't want to eat frozen parsnips in summer. There is a place and a season for everything, including vegetables.
Lastly, but not least, there is the keeping alive of old varieties; we may need them in the future, who knows? We may not, who knows? I really feel strongly that they should be saved - variety really is the spice of life and to let the huge conglomerate seed companies muscle in even further and control what is literally a growing aspect of lcoal food supplies to me would be a huge and terrible mistake.

I urge you to seek out a few and give them a go, you can't fail to be rewarded, even it is only the pleasure of watching crimson flowered broad beans or purple podded peas or golden yellow mange tout or gorgeously multi-coloured sweetcorn rambling through your veg patch.

5 comments:

GOK said...

I couldn't agree more! I volunteer 1-2 days a week at a Permaculture smallholding where we grow as many 'real' varieties as possible. This year we inadvertently succeeded in crossing two squashes - the result was delicious! :-)

My partner and I are now re-creating a 17th garden, in which we plan to grow as many heritage fruit and veg (appropriate to the period) as possible!

MrsL said...

Squashes are notoriously promiscuous! LOL I rarely save the seed as they never some true, but as you say, may turn out delicious!
Your 17th century garden sounds interesting - I look forward to eharing more about it I hope. Do you use Thos Etty for seeds? I can recomment them.

MrsL

xx

TheGOKtor! said...

They are indeed...and full of surprises! Unless we're trying growing something specific, we're happy to let them cross and see what we end up with!

I have Etty's catalogues but haven't ordered in anything for next season yet. Top of my to-do list though!

Have managed to source Martock beans and Carlin peas though - am stupidly excited about growing those! LOL!

xx

MrsL said...

Martock beans are great, I've grown them; Martock not far frm me at all, so like the local connection. It's said if you shake a Martock man he rattles (full of beans lol)

MrsL

xx

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