open pollinated veg

What are Heirloom, Heritage and Open Pollinated Seeds?

Picture the wall of seed packets at the local garden centre: a sea of shiny, perfect-looking fruits and vegetables. If you’re anything like us, you’re like a kid in a sweet shop when you’re buying seeds, but when those seed packets are calling out to you, it’s worthwhile knowing what you’re really looking at – and the alternative options online that are available to you.

At She Grows Veg, we are very passionate about two things: open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. But what do these words mean, why are they important for your garden, and where do they fit with the seed packet wall?

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Open-Pollinated Seeds

Open-pollination is a natural process in which plants reproduce by allowing pollinators (such as bees, butterflies, wind or other natural elements) to transfer pollen between flowers within the same species. Unlike hybrid methods (sometimes marked as F1 on seed packets), there’s no human intervention or specific breeding programmes. It really is the epitome of letting nature take its course.

The Benefits of Open-Pollinated Seeds

And why is this a good thing? For gardeners, open pollination is a natural way of enabling your produce to be the best it can be. Open-pollinated plants are generally well adapted to their local climate, and their seeds can be saved and resown in the next season, maintaining the genetic identity of the plant. The resulting seeds reflect the characteristics of the parent plants and the environmental conditions in which they grew. The seeds are also usually very fertile, enabling bumper crops.

These are all huge plus points, but they are not the only benefits offered by open pollination. There’s also the very important benefit of flavour. With open pollination, the plants are free to exchange genetic notes, resulting in fruit and vegetables that boast the most tantalising taste profiles. Hybrids may try to compete, but when up against the force that is Mother Nature, they really do come in second place.

This natural process also boasts additional nutritional benefits. Untouched by humans, these seeds can carry the nutritional legacy of their plant parents, passing down the goodness from generation to generation.

We think of it as gardening how it used to be – simple, wholesome, and a little bit wild.

Why Choose Open-Pollinated Heirloom Seeds

At She Grows Veg, we only sell open-pollinated heirloom seeds because we strongly believe that, for all these reasons, this is the seed we should all be focused on growing. Our seeds are exactly as nature intended.

Heirloom vs Heritage Seeds – What’s the difference?

But what about heirloom and heritage seeds? The two terms – heirloom and heritage – are interchangeable, heritage being the more colloquial British term and heirloom being the more globally recognised term and the term more often used by chefs. As we see the buying of seeds, like the early purchasing of ingredients for your kitchen, we prefer to run with heirlooms for our seed range. Strictly speaking, an heirloom variety should have a history of 50 years or more. If it is a product of more recent breeding, it is called a modern heirloom.

Old or young heirloom plants are often carefully grown, and the seeds are saved because they are considered valuable. The value could be in the incredible flavour of the produce, its hardiness, or productivity. It could be that the plant is great at adapting to different climates or soil types. Value can mean different things to different plants, but what is incredible is that many heirlooms have been grown, saved, and passed down for more than 100 years.

The Unique Charm of Heirloom Vegetables

At She Grows Veg, we are perpetually amazed by the incredible variety of colours that the heirloom vegetables produce. The beauty of our seed packets speaks for themselves, and they look truly amazing both in your garden and on your plate. We all know the phrase “eat the rainbow” – well, heirloom vegetables can cover the entire spectrum on their own.

And it’s not just the way they look, but the fascinating stories and the heritage of these marvellous vegetables that we want to preserve. They can be viewed as not just crops but as living chronicles of our agricultural past, each with its own remarkable narrative.

Corn Striped Japonica
Lucky with variety of veg

Stowells Evergreen Corn

For example, take our Stowells Evergreen Corn, its story of betrayal could form the foundation of a movie. It’s renowned as one of the oldest and best-storing varieties of corn, and since its commercial debut in 1956, it has captivated growers – us included! The corn’s origins lay with a farmer, Nathaniel Stowell, who was based in New Jersey. He crossbred two sweetcorn strains which had been presumed extinct, making this brilliantly stable, storable strain.

The story goes that he sold two ears of corn for $4 to a friend on the condition that they were for personal use only. The so-called friend then sold them on to Thoburn and Company Seed in the 1950s for $20,000 – a considerable profit and a huge sum in the 1950s! Although sadly, Nathaniel didn’t receive the financial benefit, at least it can be said his name still endures, and the variety has been cherished and cultivated now for over a century.

At She Grows Veg, we love that each heirloom vegetable comes with its own history, story, and memento of what has made it so important and valuable. The future of growing vegetables, to us, derives from the past.

Making Informed Choices When Shopping For Seeds

So, when you are next lured into the tempting world of seed shopping, do so with the full knowledge of what you’re looking at – and looking for. Our She Grows Veg open-pollinated, heirloom seeds are (beautifully) packaged, available to buy online now, and will be delivered straight to your door, leaving you with more time to spend in the garden.