While most definitions say that heirloom seeds and heritage seeds are similar, some people point out there is a slight difference, but overall, it means the same.
Seeds are considered to be an heirloom if they’re grown for at least 50 years or more. There are different opinions regarding the time limit as some of them claim to accept seeds to be an heirloom if they are grown at least for 100 years.
But some of the people stick to consider from the time modern industrial agriculture began. This was in the year 1945, which is right after world war II.
Farming has actually come into the limelight after this period, and people started learning about monoculture crops. People in the western part of the world began adopting ways to grow a single crop on a large piece of land, and slowly commercialization started from there.
There are also some statements that heirloom seeds are those that existed even before the war. So, people also identified the heirloom seeds as pre-war varieties.
When we talk about heritage seeds, it seems that this term is extensively used in the UK and lesser in the American continent.
Heritage and heirloom mean the same. The only slight distinction is that some of the heirloom seeds are called heritage seeds if they carry history and tradition with them.
Heritage seeds have a personalized story from the family gardens. The seeds are handed down to the future generation as an asset.
A clear example of heritage seed can be Romano Beans, brought down from Italy by the immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. Soon the seeds have embedded into the tradition and were handed down to the futures of the families.
The customs lived for longer in most families, and that’s why we were able to trace back to some of the heritage seeds. Even today, some people are dedicated to cultivating the heritage seeds that were handed down to them.
How are hybrid seeds distinct from Heirloom and Heritage seeds?
Hybrid seeds have emerged for as long as 50 years now, but they don’t come under heirloom or heritage seeds. This is because hybrid varieties tend to change their traits and forms.
They don’t look like the parent plant. The Hybrids help the farmers grow them more effectively and quickly.
If the seeds are handed down to the next generation, we cannot be sure of the kind of plant it would grow. Hence it wouldn’t come under the heirloom or heritage category.
Even though they are replanted, they seem to develop differently, unlike the heirloom and heritage seeds that grow exactly like the parent plant.
All the traits are included. And that’s why heritage and heirloom seeds are considered valuable. Even the farmers preserve them carefully and grow them out organically without causing disturbances to the genetic building.
Once the plants start producing, the seeds are collected and stored to be used for the next planting cycle.
Heirloom varieties and their properties
When we say heirloom seeds, we talk about seeds of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other flower plants that have been there from older generations.
But the emphasis would always be on vegetables, as vegetables are something that should be grown in the same manner; hybrid qualities would change the characteristics entirely.
It’s an heirloom seed when you can grow the same plant that can produce, just like how the older generation had them.
If your ancestors were able to obtain beautiful and juicy tomatoes of the same type, you’d have to be able to obtain produce that are exactly as beautiful and tasty.
That’s when you label the seeds heirloom, these seeds retain their types, and they are consistent throughout their existence unless you alter their genetic pattern.
Careful growing is crucial because we don’t want to alter any of the characteristics, including color, texture, and the seed’s flavour.
Keeping up the seeds’ genetic properties could be challenging because if you tend to grow the heirloom seeds with another plant close by, there could be a chance of cross-pollination.
The characteristics of the plant will be contaminated and slightly altered. That’s why there is a vital need for careful planting.
You must make sure that the plant is growing at a sufficient distance from the others. You must closely look at methods of growth and storage of seeds after. You must be careful not to spread any diseases from one seed to another.
Planting heirlooms could definitely be challenging, and all the measures to keep it as pure as it should be will add more burden to the heirloom cultivator.
If you get your hands on the heirloom seeds, you can assume how carefully they were cultivated to reach you as a heritage seed. Some of the seeds could be traced back to their origin, while some heirloom seeds could be very difficult to locate.
Pure heirloom seeds could easily help you recognize their origins. Essentially the heirloom tomatoes seemed to have originated even before the 19th century.
You can identify many other heirloom seeds by testing their genealogies.
Why is there a need to grow heirloom and heritage seeds?
The biggest answer could be to retain traditions and cultures. It’s necessary to leave a historic mark or a price from the past for the upcoming generations.
If retaining seeds that would grow similarly for years and decades to come is possible, then we must save them and hand them down.
History and heritage carry a heavy value, and it’s always necessary to carry them down the family tree.
Imagine not being able to eat tomatoes in the mere future because no one cared to hand down the heirloom seeds?
It could be dreadful. All the hybrid and the seeds that are genetically modified organisms have lost their original properties.
It’s absolute luck if they turn out like the parent plant. And when we have to question the purity and safety of the new seeds, it will be hard to face the truth.
It’s essential to sustain the heirloom variety and let the next generation know the importance of heritage seeds. It’s crucial to implant the responsibility of handing it down.
Many applications and families continue to do their part. But when you look at the number of heirloom and heritage seed cultivators, it’s relatively less. So now it’s even more crucial to pertain the precious grains.
Are Heirloom and Heritage seeds sustainable?
Sustainability depends entirely upon humans. If humans are well motivated and keen on saving heritage and organic farming, these seeds can sustain.
Though there might not be a large number of heirloom and heritage seeds available, with a bit of effort, it’s possible to keep them flourishing.
Conserving the seeds once they produce is the only way to build up the low numbers of heirloom and heritage seeds. If not like most organisms, these plants could become extinct.
Thankfully, many people have been interested in the idea of sustaining heritage and history. Most farmers have drifted their way to cultivate and increase the number of heirloom and heritage seeds.
At this rate, we could be sure to keep the seeds secure for the next generations. People have started thinking about how the hybrid and GMO seeds could be causing health issues sooner as they are grown with chemicals and pesticides.
People have already turned towards organic produce, so we could expect a higher percentage of people supporting organic heirloom and heritage seeds and plants in the mere future.