History of the Development of HEIRLOOM Seeds

History of Seed Development

Agriculture was born around 8000 BC when observant Middle Eastern ancestors realized they could control their food supply by planting wheat seeds together in a field. Before then, people lived in small hunter-gatherer groups and moved across the land in search of naturally available food sources. They lived off wild berries, fruit, vegetables and collected wheat and barely. The planting of seed marks the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution, or in layman’s terms, the dawn of agriculture and the beginning of human civilization.

The continued existence of edible crops relies on plant diversity. Biodiversity occurs naturally as plants cross-pollinate between sexually compatible varieties, their seeds producing plants with new characteristics. The free flowing exchange of genes through open pollination with the help of the birds, bees, insects and wind results in differing plant, fruit, and vegetable types. Self-pollinating flowers can also be cross-pollinated, though this is more difficult, but also naturally experience random changes in chromosomes that result in slightly different plant traits. Plants are therefore able to adapt to surrounding environments, and fruits and vegetables become region specific as certain characteristics survive better in certain conditions.

By selecting seeds from plants with more desirable attributes, farmers are able to plant and direct crops into varieties more suitable to meet human needs. For example, Mesoamerican people in modern day Mexico developed large quantities of yellow and white corn by saving seeds from mutant teosinte corn plants, the natural variety of the day which was blue, spiky-eared and small seeded. For centuries farmers have been saving seeds from the best plants every year, ensuring viable variety that both thrives in its surrounding environment and promises crop for the next growing season.

Multinational corporations have seen the importance of seed in the world’s food supply and have invested mass sums of money into owning and selling seeds. In the beginning of the 20th century companies bought seeds from farmers and inbred a small number of plants to produce favorable market characteristic such as high yield, fast growing speed, crop uniformity, shipping durability and long shelf life. As a result, flavor and nutrition quickly became secondary in seed development. These hybrids were then resold to farmers. In 1926 the first commercially available hybrid crop, maize, hit the market. As science advanced, companies began investing in genetically altering plant genes to have special traits to resist chemical fertilizers and contain poisonous toxins to fend off insects. Plants can now be modified by any source (bacteria, animal, fungus, or other plants) through the isolation, cloning and introduction of foreign genes into plant cells.

In the past few decades seeds have become the object of intellectual property rights and agricultural monopoly. What for thousands of years was a common, self-regenerative human resource has been transformed into a commodity and taken up by the corporate sector. Agricultural companies hold patents over their seeds, and prohibit farmers from saving or exchanging the seeds, which has up until now been a method of human sustainability. By law, patented seeds have become non-renewable product and farmers are required to purchase new seeds every year. Lawsuits are filed by corporations against farmers and small seed companies for unauthorized use of seeds that contain traces of their patented varieties. To make matters worse, governments have granted subsidies to corporate giants that give them competitive advantages and distort market value by reducing prices, putting small farmers out of business.

Patenting and hybridizing have restricted the natural plant gene flow that allows adaptation and diversity, and has allowed agriculture to rapidly privatize. Today fewer than 12 companies own most patented plants in the world. Between 1995 and 2005 Monsanto, a multinational agriculture corporation, bought up 50 seed companies and had 250 million acres of genetically modified crops planted in the world. This single company holds 95% of all patents of genetically modified plant traits around the globe.

Peter Piper Picked a Pepper.

Sweet Peppers

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Sweet peppers (or the scientific name-Capsicum) are related to the tomato in the nightshade family and like the tomato (tomato also is classified as a fruit see Tomatoes; Fruit or Vegetable?

It is one of the most popular vegetables in the American diet. The sweet bell pepper according to Scoville rating is a zero in the rating how spicy the pepper is. In the commercial pepper production of the sweet pepper, most people see the green bell pepper as the only sweet pepper. All sweet peppers will turn yellow and then red if left on the vine to ripen long enough. The industrial approach to pepper farming has made the advent of ripe peppers rare. The yellow and red peppers found in most markets are not ripe peppers but rather have been hybrid to produce the color they want to market. Heirloom peppers, or often-called Heritage peppers, have been preserved from generation to generation to give the best flavor and texture. The hybrid peppers that are grown for production farming are bred for uniformity and machine picking for maximizing profits. The peppers are picked green and shipped to market as ‘green bell peppers’ with green meaning not ripe.    Home gardeners and growers for the small markets will allow the peppers to ripen on the vine and they will have thick walls and a sweet fruity flavor. There are some Heirloom Peppers or commonly know as Heritage Peppers that will turn red long after the are mature. The Black Beauty Pepper or the California Wonder Pepper are examples of this, they will mature with sweet thick walls before they turn red. For the home gardener Heirloom peppers should be the natural choice. Heritage sweet peppers come in different shapes, sizes and colors that make your meals both tasty and pleasing to the eye. Many people choose these peppers just for the beauty and taste but serious gardeners and people concerned with sustainability know that the Heirloom Pepper is able to self-produce. Many of the hybrid peppers are unable to reproduce the seeds of the pepper and will not reproduce the same plant. Heritage peppers can be harvested and seeds saved from year to year. To save the seeds of the pepper, allow a pepper to grow to maturity and split the pepper open and scrape out the seeds and put them in a warm place out of direct sunlight or in a dehydrator with temperature set under 100 degrees. When dry, separate the seeds from the seedpods and store in a sealed container in a cool, dark place until planting time.

 

Planting Heirloom Peppers in most parts of the country will require the plants to be started in doors. To prepare the Heritage pepper plants for outdoor planting is easy and interesting to do. Eight weeks before last frost, place seeds about 1/8 inch deep in seed starting soil, this soil is sterile most starting soil is heated to kill pathogens that can harm the plants as they grow. Make sure soil is moist and put the seed trays in a black plastic bag and put them somewhere where the temperature is around 80 to 85 degrees (on top of the refrigerator or electric hot water tank is often a good place.) Check the seeds every day or so for moisture, in about a week you will see the plants growing, place the plants in a window where the sun will shine on the plants or place them under a grow light. Make sure there is good air circulation to keep the plants from “dampening off” from too much moisture.  When you choose your pepper plants make sure to choose Heritage Peppers or Heirloom Peppers for your garden.

 

What is the difference between Germinating Seed and Planting Seedlings?

Temperature is everything for a good outcome… and there is a difference between germinating seed and growing seedlings.

 

Germinating

 

1. Germinating seed can be done inside your house.

  • Seed should be sown in ‘plug trays’ that is a tray with smaller cells
  • Seed should be planted in a good seed starting soil that you have mixed with enough water to have the soil almost hold together but not so wet that it makes a BALL
  • Fill trays with soil and bounce on a flat surface to compact soil make sure cells are almost full
  • Place one seed on each cell and the cover with a thin layer of soil on top of seed and press down…
  • Water seed tray (carefully not to dislodge seed)
  • If you bought trays with domes put domes on if not put them in a plastic bag, seeds do not need light to germinate..
  • Tomato and pepper seeds germinate well at 75 to 80 degrees… the top of your refrigerator works well for this temperature.
  • Check for moisture every couple of days..
  • In five or six days seed should be germinated and you will see them pushing out of the soil
  • Your seeds are now germinated

 

2. Growing the seedlings

  • Seedlings need light to grow… now move the seedlings into your greenhouse
  • Water and feed regularly (do not over water)
  • Keep a fan blowing over seedlings to help strengthen seedlings and to keep them from ‘damping off’ a common problem with seedlings.
  • In a few days you will see the first ‘true’ leafs coming on.
  • Anytime in the next week or so transplant your plants into a lager pot 4in or so.
  • Once again temperature is everything… keep daytime temps 75 to 80 degrees. To do this you need to watch to see how fast the greenhouse is warming up and provide ventilation and fans to cool down the house in the day… and keep night time temps above 55 degrees… a greater temp difference between day and night will cause the plant to be ‘leggie’ or tall and thin stalk.
  • A week before transplanting put out side the greenhouse during the day and back in at night.. this is called hardening the plant it lets the plant adjust to the direct sun and other environmental conditions of your garden.

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3. Planting your plants.

  • Pinch of the bottom leafs of the plant.. leave top 3 or four pair
  • Take your plant out pots and dig a hole that is deep enough to burry the plant  leave about one to two inches below the last leaf pair above the ground
  • Compact soil well around the plant and fertilize around the base of plant
  • Just as it is  bearing fruit fertilize one more time..
  • Pick and enjoy…

 

Container Gardening; “Pros & Cons”

Container Gardening for Heirloom or Heritage plants

Container gardening is a reasonable alternative to ‘bed’ or backyard gardening, Heirloom or Heritage seeds grow very well in containers   and is often the only choice for people who live in places that makes bed gardening a challenge or even impossible.

 

Container gardening negative and positive attributes:

 

Positive attributes:

  • Gardening can be available in any area even on a balcony or in an apartment.
  • Isolates plants from harmful insects in the soil.
  • Allows for the soil to be easily adjusted to proper ph for the plants you are growing.
  • Allows to feed different plants the amount of fertilizer needed.
  • Allows water to be conserved by only applying where and when needed
  • Extends a growing season in colder areas by taking the plants in and out at night or ‘tenting’ with plastic.
  • Heirloom or Heritage plants can have soil conditions created similar to the regions they are from.

 

Negative attributes:

  • Cost; soil and containers has to be purchased
  • Soil must be closely monitored for water; plants can dry out and die very quickly.
  • Plants must be fed regularly, unlike traditional gardening; container soil depletes its nutrients quickly.
  • Heirloom or Heritage plants as well must be closely monitored.

 

Choosing what containers to use.

 

Store bought growing containers

  • No prep work just put in soil and plant
  • Create areas that are designed for the esthetic as well as the functional use
  • Store bought containers can be quite pricey and often can be difficult to clean and reuse at the end of the growing season.

 

Homemade growing containers.

  • Home made growing containers are less expensive, often free and are fun to design
  • Many people who grow Heirloom or Heritage plants are concerned with stability and prefer homemade over store bought containers.
  •   A plastic  (food grade) container becomes a garden with very little work.
  • Containers can be used for specific plants in mind.
    • A rain gutter with a few drain holes is great for radish, lettuces and herbs
    • A 5-gallon bucket with a few holes for drainage is perfect for   tomato or pepper plants.
    • A bag of soil from the market with a “X” cut in the top becomes a garden
    • Almost any container is a potential garden.
  • Heirloom or Heritage plants adapt well to any container.

 

Helpful hints on container gardening.

 

Container gardening soil ‘wears out’

  • Soil has to be augmented during the year with fertilizer as the plant grows and consume the nutrients in the soil
  • At the end of each growing season, empty all soil from all containers into a compost pile and build your soil for next year or at the beginning of the growing season empty soil from all containers and add composted soil mix and refill pots.
  • Wash growing containers with a 5% bleach solution   before re-potting.
  • Heirloom or Heritage plants have a wide range of nutrients they use and the soil should be enhanced every year with fresh compost

 

Container gardening depletes water rapidly     

  • Water reserves for the plant is limited
  • Water must be closely watched as the plant grows and the root system develops there is not only a need for more water but there is less storage for water in the container
  • Although Heirloom or Heritage plants are often more drought resistant, when container gardening is employed be sure to water often as needed.

 

Container gardening can be a rewarding experience. It is also easier to keep varieties separated when growing Heirloom or Heritage plants when seed collection is the growing intent.  In fact many people grow in containers not because they do not have space for a traditional garden but because they have more success and bigger harvests with container gardening.  Experiment with a few different container gardens and see what you think.

Tomatoes; Fruit or Vegetable?

 

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Tomatoes (or the scientific name- Solanum lycopersicum) considered poisonous or inedible until the last few hundred years and now have become one of the most common ‘vegetables’ (they are actually considered a fruit) grown and eaten in the world. The tomato has it origins in South and Central America. They were small red and yellow in size and color. As the tomato became accepted as a source of food it begin making its way into the food supply around the world. Different cultures and growing environments the tomato was introduced to began to change not only the size and color of the tomato but also changed the texture and flavor of the tomato. As the tomato began to grow in popularity a variety of tomatoes came into existence that would become known as Heirloom Tomatoes or Heritage Tomatoes. These tomatoes have been given a name that has been used to describe the tomato type such as Black Cherokee, Arkansas Traveler and many more. These natural grown tomatoes were grown and cultivated for their flavor, color and texture as well they were cultivated for their compatibility with the weather in the areas they were grown. The seeds from these tomatoes were collected and saved from year to year as well as from generation to generation. Heirloom tomatoes and Heritage tomatoes are open pollinated and will cross-pollinate with other tomatoes. New varieties of these natural tomatoes were created, two different types of tomatoes planted close together cross-pollinated forming a tomato that had flavor or texture or growing needs that was desirable, the seeds from that tomato were collected and saved to replant the following year. These seeds would be planted away from other tomatoes so they would not cross with other tomatoes there by keeping the tomatoes the same, generation after generation. Until the early 1900’s all tomatoes would be what we today call Heirloom tomatoes or Heritage tomatoes. In the early 1900’s the industrial revolution was changing not only the way that the people of the world lived but also how they would acquire their food. As the masses of people left the rural areas and moved into the cities, food had to be grown and shipped to the cities. This changed the way tomatoes were viewed by the grower, in time past the grower looked for flavor, color or texture and their compatibility with the weather in the areas they were grown, now the tomato was being ‘industrialized’ as well. The grower needed a tomato that would grow and ship with the greatest profit margins. The outcome of this change is what we know today as industrial mono-crop growers. The growers have created this by hyper-hybridization in closed-pollinated environments that maximize profits not flavor, color or texture. Most of the tomatoes you will see in the supermarket are red and come in two or three sizes. Where the grower of what we call today Heirloom tomatoes or Heritage tomatoes was concerned about the tomato’s flavor and texture, the modern day farmer is concerned with profit. The tomatoes they grow for market are bred for size, uniformity and maturity so they can be harvested by machine and all at the same time. The outcome of this hyper-hybridization is a tomato with limited flavor, thick skin, low moisture and cannot be reproduced from the seed of the tomato. The value of Heirloom tomatoes or Heritage tomatoes cannot be over emphasized with anyone that is concerned about the sustainability of the seed of any of these natural tomatoes which can be harvested, dried and stored year after year. This is why survival seed banks should only be filled with these types of seeds. Properly prepared seeds stored in a good seed bank will have good germination rates for many years. If you are planting a garden or buying a seed bank make sure you have Heirloom tomato or Heritage tomato seeds.

What are Heirloom Seeds?

Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been faithfully reproduced and handed down from generation to generation, and which have unmatched richness of flavor, nutritional benefit, and resistance to diseases. A plant is considered to be an heirloom if it is an open-pollinated cultivar that is over 50 years old. When heirloom gardeners refer to open-pollination, they mean that a particular cultivar can be grown from seed and will come back “true to type.” In other words, the next generation will look just like its parent.

Just how old a cultivar has to be to be an heirloom is open to discussion. Some authorities say heirloom vegetables are those introduced before 1951, when modern plant breeders introduced the first hybrids developed from inbred lines. While there are good reasons to use 1951 as a cut-off, many heirloom gardeners focus on varieties that date from the 1920s and earlier. A few, especially those re-creating World War II Victory Gardens, add introductions from the 1920s, 1930s, and the early 1940s. While some first-rate open pollinated cultivars were introduced after 1951, few gardeners include them with the heirlooms.