May 12, 2008

Heirloom Seeds and Seed Exchanges

Heirloom Seeds

In gardening the term heirloom refers to plants that have been
cultivated for at least one hundred years and can be propagated year
after year from seeds, cuttings, or divisions.  Technically, heirloom
plants are either self-pollinating, which means they produce seeds
without obtaining pollen from another plant, or open-pollinated, which
means they require pollen to be delivered by insects, birds, or other
external forces.  When seeds develop and are planted, they form an
exact copy of the parent plant.  In contrast, a hybrid plant is formed
by controlled cross-pollination, where only one variety of a species is
chosen to provide pollen to another variety of the same species.  The
hybrid is usually more prolific than either parent and is more
disease-resistant.  However, seeds saved from a hybrid will not produce
the same plant as from which it came.  It’s kind of complicated, but
heirloom vegetables provide a wider range of color, texture, and
flavor, and make gardening even more exciting.

Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, Iowa 52101

Ph: (563) 382-5990 Fax: (563) 382-5872 Seed Savers Exchange is a
non-profit organization of gardeners who save and share heirloom seed.

Here’s a brief explanation about seed exchanges –

If you’re a
gardener and you’re getting tired of what’s available at your local
nursery or through garden catalogs, then you might consider becoming a
member of a seed exchange.  A seed exchange is basically a society
whose members trade seeds with fellow gardeners.  These seeds are most
often from choice species and are not readily available to
individuals.  The only way to cultivate them is to find another
gardener who has seeds to pass along.  Fortunately, there are many
devotees who are willing to share their seeds for nearly every plant
and type of garden.  For instance, if your passion is rock gardening,
you can obtain seeds through a rock garden society.  There are fern
societies, carnivorous plant societies, and exchanges dealing with
heirloom fruits and vegetables.  Many seed exchanges are geared to very
specific climatic conditions, such as desert regions and marshy areas.

Many varieties of seeds exchanged through these groups are extremely
rare and could have faced extinction, had it not been for the
commitment of gardeners wanting to keep them alive.  So for a nominal
fee and perhaps sharing some of your own seeds, you can enrich your
garden and may also help to safeguard the genetic diversity of the
world’s plant life.