Saving Heirloom Seeds

blue lake pole beansWhen I was at the Garden Writer’s Association conference in Raleigh last month, I visited the exhibit booth of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and was quite impressed with their offerings.

cilantro seedsI took a peek at their website yesterday at www.rareseeds.com and was further impressed. Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds carries over 1,200 open pollinated, heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs, many of them rare varieties from southeast Asia and Central America that I haven’t found offered elsewhere.

onion seedsI requested a copy of their 2010 catalog, but I plan to order some seeds of Asian greens now for fall planting. That’s one of the joys of gardening–being able to grow vegetables that you can’t find in the grocery store. 

Unlike hybrids, old-time heirloom vegetables breed true. You can save seeds from year to year and save money on your vegetable garden. I just planted some seeds of arugula (the British call it rocket) and mizuna (a Japanese mustard green) from seeds that I saved last year. Both are good in salads, and mizuna is great in stir-fries. I plan to try some Komatsuna (another mustard from Japan) as soon as the seeds arrive.

mizuna seedsBaker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds was started by Jeremiath (Jere) Gettle in 1998 when he was only 17. He had started gardening at age 4 and was making play seed catalogs by the time he was 7. Gettle has a passion for seed-saving and preserving old varieties that might otherwise be lost to the world. He has traveled extensively in southeast Asian and Central America, collecting seeds of unusual varieties of vegetables.

In the latter part of the 2oth Century, giant corporations were offering fewer and fewer varieties of seeds. Large seed companies focused mainly on hybrid seeds, which won’t breed true if the home gardener attempts to save seeds from them. I have nothing against hybrid seeds, because they certainly have their place in agriculture. But I would hate to see the old varieties lost.

Fortunately, American home gardeners have renewed their interest in heirloom varieties, and most seed companies offer at least a few varieties. Johnny’s Seeds is another good source for heirlooms.

arugula seeds

One way in which home gardeners can help save an amazingly diverse pool of genes is to buy heirloom seeds. This supports the companies that are attempting to maintain these old varieties in cultivation. As our climate is changing rapidly now, we would be wise to preserve as many of these old varieties as possible. Some of them may contain important genes that will enable them to survive variable climate and the new diseases that are bound to spring up. Besides, their flavor is often far superior to varieties that were bred primarily to withstand transport and look pretty and uniform.  Handsome is as handsome does.

(To read more of Lou Murray’s environmental writing, see her weekly column, Natural Perspectives, in the Huntington Beach Independent at www.hbindependent.com, under columnists.)

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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7 Responses to Saving Heirloom Seeds

  1. Sue in Milan says:

    Envy your attendance at the Garden Writers’ Conference!

  2. Michelle says:

    I am a very big fan of Baker Creek. Their catalog and products are wonderful. I am so happy that there are companies out there that care as much as Baker Creek!

    I did a post last spring about their catalog. Just spreading the word!

  3. Flowers says:

    Your blog looks wonderful. It was nice going through your blog. keep it up the good work. Cheers 🙂

  4. lmurrayphd says:

    I agree. The way to keep heirloom seeds from disappearing is to buy them from companies who sell them. And the way to save heritage breeds of animals is to eat them. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Baker’s Creek is great, but you need to mention Seed Saver’s Exchange. They have been offering heirloom seed varieties since about 1975. Not only is it a seed company, but you can cut out the middleman and trade heirloom seeds with other members. Genetics are being lost in our backyards, in our gardens. Don’t just buy heirloom seeds; grow them, save them, and share them! http://www.AutonomyAcres.com

    • You’re absolutely right. I plan to do a blog post on seed catalogs soon, and will not only mention Seed Saver’s Exchange, but Native Seed Search, which offers New World seed varieties from North and Central America.

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