Where to Find Heirloom Seeds for Your Vegetable Garden
Using heirloom seeds means that you’ll be growing older varieties. There are both advantages and disadvantages to heirloom seeds, but many home gardeners find that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Advantages of heirloom seeds:
- because heirloom seeds are usually not hybrids, you are more likely to be able to save seed from them and have the offspring resemble the parents. Saving seeds can save you money, and helps preserve unusual varieties and genetic diversity for the future
- some heirloom varieties taste better than modern varieties
- many heirloom varieties are better adapted to organic growing conditions
- some heirloom varieties have unusual qualities such as color, shape or taste
- some heirloom varieties are specially adapted to cope with poor soil conditions
- heirlooms are more likely to mature at slightly different times, thus allowing for a more spread-out harvest.
Disadvantages of heirloom seeds
- heirloom varieties may not grow as fast as most F1 hybrids
- some modern varieties are more resistant to disease than older varieties
- modern varieties often produce larger yields.
- heirloom seeds are often harder to find
Where to find heirloom seeds for sale
Seed catalogs will often carry at least some heirloom seeds. Heirlooms may be marked by special signs saying ‘heirloom’ or “heritage” or something similar. In other cases they won’t be marked at all and you have to know which ones they are.
Some seed companies specialize in or carry an unusually good selection of heirlooms, including:
- Salt Spring Seeds (West Coast Canada)
- Heritage Harvest Seed (Canada)
- Seed Savers Exchange (USA)
- Territorial Seed (USA: PNW)
- High Mowing Organic Seeds (USA)
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Southern USA)
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (NE USA)
Garden centers will also sometimes carry heirloom seeds, often in a specially marked rack.
Don’t bother looking for heirloom seeds in supermarkets, hardware stores, or anywhere that just sells a rack or two of seeds in the spring and isn’t normally a garden store. You are unlikely to find heirloom varieties there. These are bad places to get seeds anyway – the seeds are usually low-priced, but they are often very poor quality. They may have been sitting there for years, or be mislabeled as a different variety, and the seeds were often grown far away from where you want to plant them (making them less likely to be a good fit for your conditions).
Important consideration: the origin of your seeds
This is a major consideration even if you’re buying good quality seeds. The seeds that perform well in Florida are not the same ones that perform well in Canada or Washington State. Whether you’re buying heirloom seeds or not, you are best off buying seeds that were grown in a climate similar to yours because the plants will be bred to do well in similar conditions to those that you’ll be providing. One way to do this is to buy seeds from regional suppliers, or local suppliers if there are any in your area.
If this isn’t possible, the next best thing is to pick seeds from a region with a similar climate to yours. This doesn’t necessarily mean close to where you are. If you are living in coastal Washington State, you are probably better off buying seeds grown in southern England than ones that were grown in Texas because the climate is closer to what you’ll be growing them in.
Having said all that, it’s often hard to find out where seeds were produced. Your best bet is a seed company in your region that actually does field trials, and chooses seeds for the catalog based on how well they do in the trials.