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Heirloom Seeds

Tobias WhitakerI have become obsessed with heirloom seeds over the past decade. I save them, trade them and read about them. Now it looks as though I write about them. Some seeds arrive with a rich history while others are shrouded in a bit of mystery. They produce delicious and unique plants, and I am always on the lookout for a lost gem.

For the beginner, heirlooms may seem a bit overwhelming. Some plants need to be separated from others such as sweet corn and popcorn. Others take a bit more work in order to save seed such as carrots or chard. So with that being said, I thought I would mention just a few seeds I have found through experience to be easy to grow and safe for the novice gardener.

Peas are one of the easiest heirlooms to collect.  

Peas are one of the easiest heirlooms to collect.

My first suggestion would be peas. Not only are they fairly easy to grow and considered a beneficial legume for soil maintenance, they are, in my opinion, one of the easiest vegetables to save seed from. Simply allow a portion of the earliest blooming pea pods to dry on the vine. Eventually toward the end of the season when the pod is dry and brittle, remove the dried peas from the pods. At this point I usually put them on cookie sheets under a ceiling fan for a few days just to make sure there is not an abundance of moisture, which in worst-case scenarios will cause mold. I store all my seeds in glass jars or envelopes in the back of my refrigerator until the next season. Just make sure you label all your seeds when storing them.

Beans are perfect for the novice as well. I use a similar technique to the peas. Allow them to dry on the vine and then remove the beans from the dry pod. There are a number of methods for removing seeds, but I prefer to do everything by hand. It may take a bit longer, but it is relaxing for me to spend the fleeting days of summer removing seed while I listen to the wind and the birds.

Beans are another great option for seed saving.

Beans are another great option for seed saving.

Lettuce seeds, though small and tedious, are easy to gather and store as well. Allow your healthiest plants to develop flower heads and when they dry pinch the feathery white head off the tip of the shoot. If you twist the dried flower head in your hand you will be surprised to find how many lettuce seeds are stored in each flower. 

These are just a couple of the easiest, in my opinion. There are a number of other vegetables that are suitable for the beginning heirloom collector. Tomatoes, squash and corn are reasonably easy, just to name a few. Eventually your confidence will grow, along with your seed collection, and you will find it easy to collect and store most seed.

Heirloom gardening is a fascinating world of history, land stewardship, and a belief in the future. Seeds are not only a commodity, they come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. They are a great foundation for responsible stewardship, and they open doors of conversation and potential trade between like-minded individuals. If stored properly after the initial purchase, they are a true money saver as well.

There are a number of great heirloom companies out there. I have used The Seed Savers Exchange and Fedco Seeds with great results. I have also traded seeds at my local library as part of a community seed swap. Another option is the Internet. I have been a member for years now of the Heirloom and Organic Seed Exchange on Facebook, which was started by Bonni Fellows.