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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Heirloom Seeds, Garden Treasures
This wonderful article is excerpted from "Vegetarians in Paradise."
Anyone who has lovingly tended the plants for that specially awaited day to pluck a ripe tomato or a squash off the vine can agree that homegrown heirloom vegetables have unmatchable richness of flavor, sweetness, and juiciness, but wait--it can get even better.

When you discover the many unique features of heirloom varieties, you'll surely be hooked. You'll find seeds that have a long history, a pedigree, so to speak. You may be growing purple string beans, tomatoes of unusual shapes and colors, little round white eggplants, and beans for drying and soup-making.

Each year, in December and January, commercial seed companies sell attractive, relatively inexpensive seed packets to home gardeners through seed catalogs and garden shops. Anything from root vegetables and beans to eggplant, tomatoes, and okra are available. Though these catalogs are filled with appealing color photographs of your favorite vegetables, what they're selling are hybrid seeds, seeds that have actually been bred for the commercial grower.

Commercial growers who grow only hybridized crops risk the danger of a fungus or plant disease destroying their entire crop. It happened in the famous Irish potato famine in the 1840s where farmers were growing only one variety of potatoes. Disease destroyed their entire crop and millions of people died. Their variety of potato had no resistance to that particular disease, one of the pitfalls of hybridized vegetable crops. With the diversity of plant varieties offered by preserving heirlooms, many plants develop resistance to certain pests, preventing the total crop loss experienced in Ireland.

The commercial grower wants to breed fruits and vegetables that are uniform in size, ripen all at once, have the same color and shape, and that can be transported to market without spoilage. Invariably, it's the flavor that's lost. We've all purchased fruits and vegetables from the supermarket that tempted us with their bright colors and plump appearance but have too often given us that flavor let-down. The home gardener, too, may not always have success with these hybrid seeds and may feel discouraged.

Today, many of us are concerned about the widespread practice of genetic engineering and the unknown consequences of genetically modified foods. Taking up heirloom gardening reassures us that we can enjoy vegetables and fruits that are pure, natural, unchanged, and in complete harmony with nature."

Be certain to look at the back of the packet of seeds to determine if they are GMO and chemical free. After all, you are planting your garden because you want fresh, safe vegetables for your table.

7:59 am pst

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All articles and photos unless otherwise credited are© by Elaine Wilson.
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