The names these old gardeners gave their seeds are intriguing. Who can resist a tomato called “Stump of the World”? What would that even taste like? And, what about Serpent Melon? At less than 12 inches, it is a cucumber, but at 3 feet, it is a melon. Okay, you have me…I am intrigued.
Heirloom seeds refer to any seed that predates modern, 1951 or later, hybridized seeds. A hybrid is a plant that is bred by crossing two distinct plants to create a genetically different third plant. Hybrids are sterile and cannot reproduce the crossed varieties. Hybrids are bred to take advantage of certain characteristics each parent may have. They are created for a variety of agribusiness reasons, such as uniform size for shipping and marketing, the ability to withstand transport over long distances, ripening at the same time, or resistance to pests, blight, and other environmental and weather hazards.
Since I am not a large agribusiness farmer, just a home gardener, it makes sense for me to use heirloom seeds for my garden. With heirlooms, I can enjoy a wide variety of colorful, uniquely shaped, yummy tasting, delightfully named vegetables from my garden.
Here are my Top 5 Heirloom Seed Catalogs.
This website is a one-woman operation with some amazing heirloom seeds. The owner grows and harvests all the seeds she sells on her website. Who can resist Woodle Orange Tomato or Chicken Heart Peppers? She also carries heirloom flower too. Most have limited quantities so order early!
Heirloom Seeds is a small family run web based seed business. They are backyard gardeners for backyard gardeners. What started with tomatoes and peppers has grown to include other vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. In the descriptions, they mention where the seed came from and what year it originated in. Try Parisian Pickling cucumber, an heirloom from France dating to 1892, for pickles or slicing into salads this summer.
Landreth is the oldest seed company in the
. It has been in business since 1784 and introduced zinnias, various tomatoes and Bloomsdale spinach to its customers. Their heirloom selection is quite large and includes such delicious sounding varieties as Minnesota Midget melons and Turkish Egg Orange eggplant. They also carry heirloom flowers and bulbs. US
Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and preserving heirloom seeds. They have a gorgeous catalog, informative website and you can find their seeds in retail locations. Join their nonprofit group and save 10% off your seed order from their website! I have my eye on the Chioggia beets, a pre-1840’s Italian variety and tiny Tommy Toe tomatoes. Yum!
Jere Gettle started this catalog in 1998 when he was just 17 years old. It has grown to include 1300 different varieties of heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs. He and his wife, Emilee, are preserving numerous old seed companies and have their own magazine, Heirloom Gardener. Their gorgeous catalog and website are extensive and you will want to buy everything! Some of my favorites are White Wonder watermelon, with creamy white flesh, Rouge d’Hiver lettuce, a red romaine from France and Black Pineapple tomatoes, a stunning striped tomato.
Seeds of Change
For organic, sustainable seeds not always heirloom.