Heirloom Revival: Protecting Against Cross Pollination

One of my most recent favorite quotes of wisdom was found at Sustainable Seed Company, written by Farmer John himself. He simply states “A seed is freedom, a seed is hope.  Learn to save seed, keep hope and freedom alive for your children.  Teach them to respect the earth, to nourish it and protect.  As humans, we face a challenging future, but there is hope…plant that seed now.”

Some of the reasons for this Heirloom Revival rests out of concerns over serious loss of plant diversity and the extinction of generations of heirloom varieties. The danger involved with such loss looms on the detrimental prospect of putting the future of our own food security at high levels of risk.

Modern varieties of food crops are always at risk of developing new strains and virus, diseases and pests. We have always had the older varieties to lean on to help with cross-pollination to improve strains against such an occurrence. If we narrow our options down by extinctions of valuable heirlooms it becomes easier to understand exactly what could put us at such a tremendous risk for the future of food.

With only an armful of serious heirloom seed growers in the U.S. working to preserve our historic heirloom seeds, it is really up to us gardeners to pick up the generational tradition of growing heirlooms and passing them on for future generations.

With many new gardeners getting on board with the heirloom revival, learning the skills of growing heirlooms and saving seeds can be challenging in the beginning.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated and subject to cross-pollination. I've put together some great links and resources to help get answers some of those looming questions.

1.  Seed Savers Exchange has a great database for planting and seed saving instructions. Simply type in the vegetable variety or herb and flower and it will take you to the information you need for planting, saving the seeds and avoiding cross-pollination.

They also offer the book “Seed To Seed” which I have found to be a very valuable resource book.

2. Historian John Forti is not only an Heirloom Garden historian but a lecturer, consultant, curator, herbalist, ethnobotanist, organic grower & local foodie. He travels as a speaker providing us with a solid foundation with the regained knowledge in special heirloom plants and gardens.

Perhaps he is coming to a town near you! If not, perhaps you might encourage an appointment with him as a guest speaker through one of your cities local Botanical Gardens or Universities.

3.  Sustainable Seed Company gives you a chance to study and learn from a seed company who is growing and preserving heirlooms seeds themselves here in the U.S. I've kind of taken a shine to

Farmer John especially because he is a fellow Texan who treasures native varieties. They do not offer a printed catalog, but you don't want to miss their awesome online varieties and information.

4. Seed Traders For Future Generations is our very own Thyme Square Garden online resource group for an opportunity to trade and swap heirloom and organic seeds with other gardeners from around the country.

Here and in other online seed swap and trade groups, you will be connected with other experienced gardeners who are always happy to share their own experiences and knowledge with heirloom plants. You may also look for local seed swaps in your area that are usually prevalent during spring. Happy Gardening!

Pamela Kimsey
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