So you bought your pack of hermetically sealed, oxygen deprived, water starved heirloom seeds stored in a stainless steel cylinder ready for the trip to Mars, and you are ready for the end of civilization! Right? Not so fast!
We’ve learned a few things about heirloom seeds that we’d like to share with you.
If you are used to growing a garden using hybrid seeds, you’ll need to adjust your thinking a bit. Hybrid seeds may not produce viable progeny, seed-wise, but they do have some desirable characteristics, including faster growth, better tasting fruit, disease and pest resistance, and long bearing. Heirloom seeds may be missing many or all of those traits you have come to expect from hybridized plants.
That means you should be growing your garden on heirloom seeds now, not just in case of a long term difficulty where hybrid seeds are not available. It is important to learn how the seeds grow, what conditions they prefer, what pests and diseases they are susceptible to, and the nature of the fruit.
You might expect that heirloom seeds require better growing conditions than heartier hybrid seeds, and that’s true for many varieties. Pay special attention to the soil, it’s structure and nutrient content. A soil test is vital to your understanding of plant performance. Adding compost is a must. Take care of the soil and the soil will baby your heirloom seed.
Germination rates also vary for heirloom seed. It helps to plant a few seed indoors before sowing them in the garden, to check the germination rate. We planted heirloom peas this year and had a 50% germination rate. That means we ate no peas, but rather gathered all the peas for next year’s seed.
The amount of heirloom seed on hand is important as well. The typical heirloom seed variety packets contain only a tiny amount of seed. If you have a great growing season with 100% germination and no bugs, you’ll get a good harvest with seed left over for next year. If anything goes wrong, then your supply is short or you don’t eat any of what you planted, or both. Consider buying not just what you think you will need in terms of seed, but five or ten times that. It may take you several years to learn how to grow vegetables that you had been growing as hybrids for years.
Be prepared also to adjust how you store your heirloom veggies. Cook some off the vine and see what you think. The flavor and texture may suggest you modify your methods to get the best results.
So start gardening with those heirloom seeds now! Buy a lot more than you think you will need! Save some, grow with some, and save a bunch of what you grow. Your experience should do you well if your garden ever becomes a necessity rather than a hobby.