Heirloom or Hybrid? What Heirloom Seeds Should I Look For?

Q.  I want to be able to harvest seeds from my vegetables and count on the next generation being the same.  Please list some heirloom seeds for each of the common vegetables, so I can look for and plant them.

A.  Here’s a small list of heirloom seeds that have been proven to be good eating and productive.  There are many hybrids that are better, but these are good.

Beans – Kentucky Wonder Brown Pole                                                                   Beets – Detroit Dark Red                                                                                      Cabbage – Golden Acre                                                                                        Carrots – Scarlet Nantes                                                                                              Corn – Golden Bantam                                                                                          Cucumber – Marketmore 76                                                                                  Lettuce – Romaine                                                                                                       Onion – Utah Sweet Spanish                                                                                      Pea – Lincoln                                                                                                                Pepper – Yolo Wonder                                                                                             Radish – Champion                                                                                                 Spinach – Bloomsdale Long-Standing                                                                   Swiss Chard – Lucullus                                                                                            Tomato – Ace 55 VF                                                                                                  Winter Squash – Waltham Butternut

All of the above are contained in a #10 can, triple sealed, that’s available from the Food For Everyone Foundation in the Store section, and if kept cool and dry these seeds will remain viable for many years.  Buy this and then use hybrids without worry about growing your own seeds.

Heirloom or Hybrid – Which is Better?

Q.  What’s the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds?  And which type of seeds is better for the home gardener to use?
 
A.  Heirloom seeds breed true, meaning that the fruit from seed you harvest from the current plant will be the same as the current plant and its fruit, generation after generation.  This means that if you like the current harvest you can use the seeds with confidence that they will give you the same thing next time, and every time.
 
Hybrid seeds have been cross-bred to achieve improvements in flavor, productivity, disease resistance, holding capacity, or other characteristics which people want and request.  However, the next generation cannot be counted on to be the same as the original plant, and thus we need to continue buying seed from the seed grower to be assured of the same end result.

Producing seeds in your own garden is no big problem if you’re growing crops with seeds in the fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.  However, for things like lettuce, cabbage, and onions you have to let the plant stay in the garden while it “goes to seed” – sometimes for as long as a second year. 

 
This can make a mess of your garden, and foul up your plans for continuing to grow food to eat. 
 
Harvesting, drying, and saving the seeds are also problems to consider before deciding to grow your own seeds.
 
I recommend people get the best advantages of both hybrid and heirloom plants by buying and using the world’s best vegetables and fruits from reputable seed companies, and buying a #10 can of 16 varieties of high quality triple-sealed heirloom seeds from the Food For Everyone Foundation at www.foodforeveryone.org/store
 
Store the can of seeds in a cool dry place, and you will have the protection of good heirloom seeds for many years, while at the same time your family harvests and eats the best produce possible.

What Varieties will Grow In My Climate?

Q.  What seeds should we buy, that will grow and produce well in our unique climate situation?
 
A.  Our experience has been that all seeds that are sold in your area grow well there.  Also, we’ve found that unless a variety has a longer growing season – such as sweet potatoes that require 140 days, or something like that – most everything you will buy from the seed catalogs do well there also.  Just don’t expect tropical plants to do well in temperate zones.
 
As forv heirloom seeds, we do not worry about them.  Instead we buy the best things we can, which are usually hybrids, and we then buy a #10 can of heirloom vegetable seeds and store them in a cool dry place.
 
This way, if we are ever not able to buy the great hybrids, we will have good heirloom seeds to fall back on.  And in the meantime we have not had to suffer with the inferior taste or production quality of most heirlooms – and we don’t have to leave plants in the garden long after maturity trying to obtain viable seeds, and thereby attract diseases and bugs.
 
You can get the #10 can of heirloom seeds right on the website at www.growfood.com.

How Many Vegetable Seeds Are There in an Ounce?

I have extracted this list from the Wholesale seed catalog we
receive from Mountain Valley Seed Co.  I recommend you consider
visiting their website and buying the triple-sealed #10 can of
Heirloom Vegetable Seeds.  Then you never have to worry about using
hybrid seeds again.  Just keep the heirloom seeds in a cool dry
place, and they will last for many years.
Vegetable Seeds – Quantities Per Ounce

Mountain Valley Seed Co

www.mvseeds.com

Asparagus 600

Bean, Bush 100

Beet 1,500

Broccoli 9,000

Brussels Sprouts 8,000

Cabbage 7,000

Carrot 19,000

Cauliflower 7,000

Celery 70,000

Collards 8,000

Cucumber 1,000

Eggplant 6,000

Endive 20,000

Kale 8,500

Kohlrabi 9,000

Leek 10,500

Lettuce 16,000

Melon 1,000

Mustard 17,000

Okra 500

Onion 8,000

Onion, Bunching 11,000

Parsley 18,000

Parsnip 8,000

Peas 2,000

Pepper 4,000

Pumpkin 200

Radish 2,500

Rutabaga 9,000

Spinach 2,500

Squash, Summer 275

Squash, Winter 150-250

Swiss Chard 1,300

Tomato 10,000

Turnip 12,000

Watermelon 450-700

How Deep should I plant My Seeds?

Q.  If I plant turnips and beets by burying the seed instead of “broadcasting” them, how deep should the turnip seed go?  The only thing I can find on them is the latter method.
 
A.  A “rule of thumb” for planting seed is to place them in a shallow furrow and bury them 2 1/2 times the width of the seed.  Turnip seed is tiny, so they will not be covered very deep at all.  Most people end up more or less broadcasting the seed in the furrow, but do so much too close together.  Your seeds should be far enough apart that the plants do not crowd each other when they are making bulbs.  unless you plant your seeds 1 1/2 to 2″ apart, you’ll need to thin them after they are up and growing, otherwise you won’t get anything but tops.
 
The best thing you can do to assure good germination and healthy plants is to cover the seeds with sand, rather than the regular soil.  Then, keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. 
 
And it’s important that the soil be warm.  Although turnips and beets are fairly hardy and will germinate and grow in cooler temperatures than tender crops like tomatoes and squash, they will grow faster if the soil is warm.  Consider using the “mini-greenhouses” to accomplish that for you.

Planting Small Seeds in Clay Soil

Q.  Why haven’t my carrot and onion seedlings come up after 2 weeks?  I planted onions and Carrots in one bed – 1/2 on the front end and 1/2 on the back.  Since the seeds are so tiny, I was wondering if my watering was causing them to NOT start.  I have faithfully been watering this bed for 2 wks. twice a day w/o any sign of seedlings
 

The day-time temps range from hi’s in the 90’s and the night-time temps are in the 50’s.  We used both products.  Pre-plant and (now) weekly feed.  They are grown in a mix of 1/2 virgin clay soil and 1/2 peat moss.  I dug down into the beds about 1 1/2 foot and then put in the bale of peat moss.  I mixed in the virgin soil after that.

I made a 1/2 inch furrow for the carrots and placed the seeds in that.  For the onions – I just placed the seed on top of the soil.  For watering, I used the end of the hose with a rag on the end and flooded the area.  When the watering system was in, I used that – again flooding.  The water goes away in a couple of minutes. 

A.  Planting carrot seed 1/2″ deep in clay soil is much deeper than is wanted, and placing the onion seed on the surface leaves it vulnerable to being dried out by the direct sunlight.  Also,
Soil preparation with 50% peat moss was rather costly and time consuming, and I recommend a much simpler solution. 
 
Use no soil amendments, but use whatever soil you have as-is.  Make a very shallow furrow on each side of your level soil bed next to the ridges.  Mix the seed with sand in a ratio of 100 parts sand to one part seed (16 ounces sand to 1 teaspoon seed – or 1/2 kg sand to 5 grams seed).  Distribute evenly in the furrows.  Cover with 1/4″ (3/4 cm) SAND – not clay soil.   Thereafter, if your soil begins to crack as it dries out, sprinkle a few pounds or kg of sand in the planting area and water.  The sand will fill the cracks and solve that problem
 
The soil should be kept damp but not wet.  Watering clay soil twice each day by flooding could have drowned your germinating seedlings.  Also, the constant moisture and high humidity greatly encourages fungus diseases, which can also kill them.
 
Water gently, so as to not disturb the seed, and just enough to maintain moist, but not wet soil conditions.  Do not use any fertilizers, other than those you mixed with the soil in making the beds, until your seedlings have emerged – then begin feeding the weekly feed down the center of the bed, making sure they do not come in contact with the tiny plants.

Saving Heirloom Seeds

Saving Seeds

Q.  I want to save seeds from tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables – How do it do it right?

A. For those who are interested in saving and using seeds from your own garden, or receive seeds from non-guaranteed sources – here’s how we heat-treat tomato and some other seeds for long-term storage and to kill diseases. Remember, however, that hybrid seeds most likely will not produce the same fruit as the parent plant did. If you want seeds that hold true to the vegetable you ate, you must use open-pollinated, or heirloom seeds.

First, place seeds, along with the natural juices surrounding them, in a bowl or bottle. Place the bottle in a warm place out of the sunlight. Allow them to ferment for 5-7 days (the time can vary, depending on conditions). Once the gelatin has broken down from around the seeds, you may proceed to the next step. Next, pour off all materials, other than the seeds. Rinse the seeds gently in fresh water until they are clean – being careful not to wash them down the sink!

After you have fermented the seed and cleaned it, and (preferably) before drying, place seeds in the toe of a pair of pantyhose. Fill a bowl or pan with hot water from the kitchen tap (most people in the USA heat their water-heater water to 130+). Using a candy thermometer, adjust the water temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, with more water – cold or hot. Place pantyhose with seeds in water, moving gently to assure even distribution of water over all seeds. Add hot water to bring temperature back up to 130 degrees. Continue the gentle seed movement and maintain temperature at 130 degrees for 30 minutes. Do not allow the temperature to vary more than a degree either side of 130. Less than 130 degrees will not kill diseases, and more than 130 for any length of time will kill the seed.

Remove seeds from water. Spread thinly on a paper towel in a warm dry place. Allow seeds to dry. When completely dry, place in a storage container with appropriate labeling. Do not return seeds to the container they were in before the heat treatment, but use a clean container.

While heat treatment will reduce germination by 10-20%, it is the weakest seeds that are lost, and the reduction in diseases is well worth the effort.

Adding Nitrogen to Your Soil Naturally – Nodulation on Plant Roots

Q.  I’ve been told I should inoculate my bean seeds. Why should I do this, and how do I do it?  Does alfalfa need it?  Any others?

A.  Why Use Rhizobia Inoculants? Rhizobia bacteria are a group of soil based microorganisms, which establish symbiotic relationships with beans and other legume plants, such as alfalfa and clover. They then form nodules on the roots of the legumes, where they store nitrogen and provide it to the plants. In return, the plants provide carbon and energy for the Rhizobia, which the plant produces by photosynthesis.  Nitrogen is vital for plant growth.  It is abundant in the atmosphere as N2, and in soil organic matter in other forms, but because of its volatility, it is not available in the NO3 form that plants can use.

Conventional methods of providing nitrogen to plants include 1) adding nitrogen fertilizers to the soil, or 2) inoculating with the Rhizobia nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Rhizobia then take N2 atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to the NO3 inorganic form that is useable by plants. In addition, the nitrogen they store in nodules on the plant roots, if the roots are left in the ground, can reduce nitrogen fertilizer requirements for the next growing season. 

Therefore, before planting, some gardeners “inoculate” their bean seeds.  This consists of coating the seeds with a small amount of powder containing the Rhizobia bacteria, thus effectively enabling the plants to draw nitrogen from the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. This ability to “fix” nitrogen is unique to plants in the legume family, because of the symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria. 

Inoculants only need to be used in poor soils that don’t have much soil nitrogen for plants to use. In fertile soil, the bacteria occur naturally, so inoculants are not needed. The inoculant comes in small packages, it is usually available where you buy your seeds, and it takes very little to do the job.Immediately before planting, put the bean seeds in a pan and add a little water to moisten them. Then add a small amount of inoculant, and stir the beans with a stick until they have a little powder on their seed coats.

To gain the maximum benefit from inoculating your been seeds, spade or till disease-free bean plants into the earth immediately after the last harvest. This adds organic matter to the soil and releases the nitrogen from the root nodules as well.   Always destroy all diseased plants immediately. 

Some people mistakenly believe planting beans and corn together is good, because the beans can climb the corn stalks, and the corn can get nitrogen from the beans.  This is not a good idea for several reasons.  The two plants are competing for the same water, food (13 nutrients are needed!), and light, and both will suffer for having to share.  In addition, the nitrogen in the bean root nodules is “fixed” and unavailable to the corn. It is only released to the soil after the bean plant has completed its life cycle.