There are a few advantages to choosing heirloom seeds over your typical mega-mart variety.
- Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated. In a nutshell, this means that if I properly harvest, store, and replant the seeds the following year I will get the same variety of plant I got this year. Some care does need to be taken that no cross-pollination between similar plants occurs, and that any off-type seedlings are removed to preserve the true to type plants, but the amount of money saved by not needing to buy seeds every year more than makes up for that.
- Vegetables grown from heirloom seeds often taste better, look better, and are easier to grow. There are of course exceptions, and you should probably contact a local Master Gardeners group or city/county agricultural group about any common plant problems specific to your area. They may also be able to give you a better idea of what varieties will or will not grow for you.
- Growing heirloom plants can be more interesting. While your typical mega-mart varieties are pretty predictable in growing patterns, heirloom varieties may grow a little differently, germinating a little slower or more erratically. They may even pop up after you have given up on them, or do strange things while they are growing. Perhaps the best advice when growing heirloom vegetables is to just wait and see what happens, enjoying the process along the way.
If you're looking for additional varieties you can also buy seeds from Garden in a Can. Their #10 can comes with 16 different varieties of seeds and is designed with long-term storage in mind. If you plant all the seeds at once, you would have a garden about 1/2 an acre in size. Or, plant just what you need, and with proper storage save the seeds for up to 10 years.
If you prefer to shop locally, ask around at farmer's markets or garden shops to make sure you find a reputable seller who deals with seeds that are not hybrids and have not been genetically modified. If you have a favorite local resource or any other sources for heirloom seeds, please share those in the comments section.
Have you gardened with heirloom seeds in the past? Our one attempt at heirloom tomatoes was spoiled when the planter was knocked off the porch in a wind storm and none of the little seedlings survived. We're looking forward to getting more seeds and trying again.