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Heirloom Quality

In this day of fast food and fake news, where can one turn for quality? The more our society tries to satiate us with the shallow, the more I crave the deep. And I’m guessing you do too.

One of the things I find so appealing about gardening is that there are no instant fixes. Plants take time to become established and often years before you get a flower or berry to show for it. Gardening cannot be rushed.

Au contraire, gardening is the small child learning to walk or the old grandmother buttoning her sweater; gardening forces you to slow down, to notice things, to search for answers.

But what rewards when you do! The heart can catch up with the mind when we slow down and move with the rhythm of nature. Much like walking beside the ocean, the spirit finds new strength when we give ourselves permission to let the natural world set the pace. And then instead of running around trying to outdo one another, we may find a new respect for our limitations. We may realize how inter-connected we all are here on planet earth.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin”. - William Shakespeare

There is a whole genre of plants that have survived our new, modern hybridizations too - they are termed "heirloom plants." But is there any such thing a fact-checking a tomato?

Cherokee Heirloom tomatoes

To say that anything is an ‘heirloom’ is to indicate it’s been selected, nurtured and handed down from one family member to another for many generations. In order to be labeled an heirloom, some scholars say the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 - which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies.

Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant could have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade.

Oftentimes, heirloom vegetables and flowers heirlooms have adapted over time to the climate and soil they have been grown in. Due to their genetics, the can be resistant to local pests, diseases and even extremes of weather. Not to mention, heirloom varieties taste and look more vibrant than their current counterparts.

Growing heirlooms is a frugal way to have a bountiful garden, too. Each season, you can grow the crop, harvest the food, save the seeds, and store them to plant next year's garden. (Many hybrid seeds have been developed to be sterile.)

If you save a lot of seeds, you can even get involved in seed exchanges with other gardeners to get more diversity in your garden.

If you don't have access to heirloom seeds at local exchanges or farmer's markets, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as "commercial heirlooms": cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down – even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.

It may cost you a little extra to purchase “heirloom” seeds or plants, but like a special piece of jewelry or an old family bible, an heirloom connects us to our heritage. It is well worth the price to push back on the immediate and partake of the prized past.

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