Monday, April 9, 2012

Don't Get Ripped-Off on Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom seeds are all the rage among gardeners these days. Heirloom plants, for those who don't already know, are older, non-hybrid plants. One advantage of heirloom plants are that they are bred for taste as opposed to modern hybrids which are bred for size, color, simultaneous maturity, and shelf-life. You see, if you are a gardener you want to plant tomato plants that produce tasty tomatoes that ripen throughout the growing season. This way you can have a continuing supply of fresh tomatoes and don't get buried under a mountain of tomatoes that all ripen at once. If you are a commercial tomato producer you want tomatoes that all ripen at the same time so you can harvest a field all at once and be done with it. You also want tomatoes that are big and red so they look good in the grocery store; never mind that they are mealy and tasteless, that's the consumer's problem.

Another advantage of heirlooms over hybrids is that heirlooms produce seed that can be saved and replanted and this seed will reproduce true to type. With hybrids some of the seeds from a fruit may reproduce true to type, some of the seeds will produce plants like one or the other of the parent plants, and some of the seeds will be sterile. In other words, if you save hybrid seeds to replant, you have no idea what you will get.

So you can see why heirloom seeds are popular with gardeners with a survivalist mentality. Heirloom seeds are the only seeds that guarantee a continuing supply of viable seed over generations of planting.

Here's the problem. A lot of seed companies are taking advantage of the heirloom seed craze to reap huge profits on some types of seed. Many of the seeds that companies have been selling for years are heirloom seeds, they just haven't been labeled as such. So now these companies will take the same seed, put it in a package labeled "HEIRLOOM VARIETY", and double the price. If you are not familiar with heirloom varieties, and you want to buy heirloom seeds, you may end up paying way more than you need to for your seed.

Here are a few examples of heirlooms that you can get for way below "heirloom" price.

Blue Lake 274 Bush Green Bean
This is a classic example. When you see a name like "Blue Lake 274" the first thing that comes to mind is that this must be some hybrid creation of modern agri-science. Not the case at all. The Blue Lake was developed by selective breeding from pole beans about fifty years ago. I plant it every year and it produces scads of great tasting green beans. I put up about twenty-five quarts of Blue Lakes off of one 3 foot by 25 foot bed. One popular heirloom seed dealer sells 40 to 60 seeds for $2.00. My local feed store sells them for $3.00 per pound. Pictured below: top, Blue Lake 274 seed; bottom, Blue Lakes growing in my garden

Pink Eyed Purple Hull Pea
The Pink Eyed Purple Hull is a favorite Southern field pea. You can't go much better than a plate full of purple hulls, some cornbread, and a mess of collard greens. One on-line retailer of heirloom seeds sells these for $2.35 per once. My local feed store sells them without the heirloom label for $2.50 per pound. Pictured below: Pink Eyed Purple Hull seeds

Anasazi Beans
Anasazi Beans were developed by the Anasazi tribe of Native Americans long before the first European set foot on North America. You can't get much more heirloom than that. You can buy twenty-five of these seeds on-line for $1.49, or you can go to the grocery store and buy a one pound bag for about $3.50. Yes, you can plant dried beans that you get at the grocery store. You may have a slightly lower germination rate, but the difference in price makes this slight difference irrelevant.

Black Seeded Simpson Letuce
Black Seeded Simpson is a 150 year-old heirloom leaf lettuce. I like it because it is fairly heat tolerant and won't bolt too early, an important characteristic here in East Texas. On-line these seeds sell for $6.40 for half an ounce. At the feed store, without the heirloom label, they cost $1.69 for half an ounce. Pictured below: Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce seed

Boston Pickling Cucumber
I always plant Boston Pickling Cucumbers. They make the best dill pickles in the world (see my canning recipe on my post of 6/23/2009). I usually buy these as a packet of seeds because I only plant about 30 or 40 of them. The thing to look for is how the packet is labeled. The packet with "HEIRLOOM" on it costs $1.99 for 25 - 35 seeds. The packet without the magic word costs $1.39 for 140 -160 seeds. I know, I know, why buy the big packet if you only need 30 or 40 seeds. Well, this way I get to give cucumber seeds to my neighbors, enhancing my reputation as a generous guy; and I save 60 cents in the bargain. Pictured below: top, Boston Pickling Cucumbers growing on a trellis in my garden; bottom, fresh cucumbers ready to become pickles

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. I don't know it for a fact, but I would be willing to bet that tomatoes are one of the most widely hybridized vegetables around. I generally stick with Arkansas Travelers because they are heat tolerant and will bare fruit all through the growing season. I usually by potted ones, although sometimes I start them from seed. I used to buy them on the cheap at feed or garden stores, but they have started falling prey to the heirloom label/price increase phenomenon. This year I could only find them in individual four inch pots, and they were $2.99 each. A little steep for an old country boy. I saved some seed for Travelers, but I didn't start them in time. I figured that I would just buy some more plants. I was wrong. This year I'm trying Homestead tomatoes. They are another old heirloom that you can still find without the label, and hence they are still a relative bargain. Pictured below: top: Arkansas Travelers growing in my garden; bottom, fresh Arkansas Travelers and some dried for storage.

These are just a few examples of how you can save money on heirloom seeds. There are many, many more. Do a little research on the internet and you can save on nearly every heirloom variety that you buy. And by the way, the whole point is to save the seed for next year. Let a couple of each vegetable grow to maturity and then save the seed. That way you won't have to buy any more "heirloom" seeds.


Randy Meyer said...

If you want to truly be in charge of your nutritional intake, you must home garden. If you want the higher nutrition of original varieties you must use non-hybrids. Non-Hybrid or Open-Pollinated seeds allow the gardener to collect seeds from a crop for future planting. Hybrid seeds do not.
Randy @ EasyEmergencyPreparedness

Herschel Willson said...

Yah it’s true that nutrition over hybrid & non hybrid seeds gives great advantage. I want to know about seeds features please suggest me. If you want to buy heirloom seeds for your various benefits then have touch on it. said...

Great post! I feel kind of silly now for paying too much for seeds!

Karen Wall said...

Great article. I really appreciated your information and delivery. My problem is this year I planted my expensive "hybrid" seeds from last year that I bought and almost nothing came up. I think I was duped.

jamesb said...

Hello! What feed store in East Texas do you get your seeds from? I have several in the 75754 area.

Sensible Survival said...

I get most of my seed at Horaney's Feed in Longview, Tx. They have a wide selection that they package themselves in different size packets. Nearly all of their vegetable seed with exception of some of the corn and tomatoes is open pollinated, heirloom seed. If you are in doubt, ask them. They are very knowledgeable on the subject.

jamesb said...

Dear Sensible (Hank), thanks for your reply. I sent my local feed store a link to a wholesale program from one of the major heirloom seed companies online. Hoping they pull that GMO junk and put heirloom in there!