DEAR NONNO, WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT MEAN WHEN SEEDS ARE CLASSIFIED AS "HEIRLOOM"?
Let's start with the pronunciation, which is 'air-loom' not 'hair-loom'. Starting with pronunciation is key because anyone growing plants cannot be taken seriously unless they are growing heirlooms. And anyone that grows heirlooms won't be taken seriously unless they can pronounce it. Given that heirloom is pronounced with a silent 'h', it probably raises the question: "why isn't 'herb' pronounced with a silent 'h' too?". The answer: because we like to be inconsistent, so be it.
Now, let's move to the definition of heirloom, being "a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations". Inherently, heirloom seeds are the same; they are varieties of seeds that have been passed town from one generation to the next because they have been considered valuable. Of course, everyone's definition of valuable is different, so it may be saved because of its taste or its yield or resistance to disease or just because it looked nice.
All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, non-hybrid varieties, meaning that they produce a true copy of themselves that can then be collected and saved. This means plants are able to evolve as nature intended, and as the good man, Charles Darwin, explained.
Very serious people, perhaps more than ourselves, believe that heirlooms need to be in existence for more than 50 years to be considered such. We're a little more lenient. Heirlooms are being developed all the time, and as long as their genetic make up is pure, we see no problem with heirlooms 'getting it on' with each other and forming more interesting and diverse varieties of plants. In fact, many mad garden scientists get their kicks out of breeding different varieties of plant and seeing the madder results.
Some may be concerned in hearing this: isn't that genetic modification? Well yes, it is. But genetic modification, done naturally, is how most, if not all heirlooms come about. It's like an Italian woman and Australian man coming together, cross pollinating and forming me. Completely natural, a little gross, but such a beautiful result.
Heirloom seeds should be used and saved when possible in the home garden. This is the only way we are able to develop better performing, better tasting, better yielding, better je nais se quoi
types of vegetables.
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