It’s time to order seed catalogs and plan this year’s garden!
Get a jump start on growing your food by starting seeds now. Also, this is the best time to order catalogs and gardening tools. If you wait until spring, the prized items will already be gone.
You would hardly think of your great-grandparents’ vegetable garden as a family heirloom, but the seeds from that crop are things to be cherished and passed on down the generational line. Heirloom plants sometimes have an interesting backstory, too, just like that piece of antique furniture or gem necklace that belonged to your ancestor.
Take one particular variety of tomatoes. It is known as the Mortgage Lifter because a Depression-era mechanic in West Virginia cultivated it and sold the seedlings to pay off a six-thousand-dollar debt. To this day, the Mortgage Lifter remains popular among West Virginia gardeners for its immense size and tastiness.
Heirloom plants come from pre-World War II farmers and gardeners who grew open-pollinated crops or crops pollinated naturally by wind and insects. Their yield was a mixed bag of fruits and vegetables that varied in color, shape, and size. They took seeds from the most desirable ones and saved them for future generations to plant and enjoy.
That makes heirloom plants different from the dime-a-dozen fruits and vegetables we see in the supermarket. Most store-bought produce consists of hybrids—specially tailored plants that big companies depend on for their productivity, consistency in appearance, and survivability when it’s time to ship them to stores across the country. According to heirloom gardeners, quality went by the wayside when agriculture industrialized. They say nothing compares to the taste of an heirloom tomato or the fragrance of an heirloom rose.
These authentic traits are disappearing as more heirloom plants go extinct. Historical records show that more than half of the different varieties of bean, tomato, corn, and other fruits and vegetables have disappeared; 86 percent of apple varieties are gone; globally, we’ve lost 75 percent of farmed plant diversity.
But some places grow heirloom plants and harvest the seeds for anyone to buy. Order a Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (or download their digital version) at www.rareseeds.com.
If you find yourself passing through Missouri this year, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is well worth a side trip. Located near Mansfield, Baker Creek also has a vast collection of seed varieties and offers farm tours, a gourmet restaurant open for lunch, and a pioneer village called Bakersville. During May 3-4, Baker Creek hosts the annual Spring Planting Festival, where garden enthusiasts come together to enjoy talks, music, food, and heirloom plants.—By Kat Schneider