So, you’ve heard other cut flower gardeners and vegetable gardeners talk about organic and heirloom seeds, but you’re not sure what all the hype is about. You’re in the right place!
In this post, I’ll walk you through what to look for when purchasing organic and heirloom seeds, the difference between hybrid and heirloom seeds, and some of my favourite heirloom fruit, vegetable, and cut flower varieties that I grow in my own garden.
WHAT ARE ORGANIC SEEDS?
For seeds to be considered organic, they must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and other harsh chemicals. There are many labels seeds can have, such as “certified organic” and “USDA organic,” which all come with their own specifications and regulatory practices.
Something to note when purchasing organic seeds is that although the seed is organic it does not guarantee that the plant will be. Growing plants organically is a whole different conversation, but buying organic seeds is one way to assure quality, biodiversity, and sustainability. And it is a more natural alternative to buying other seeds which depend more heavily on harsh chemicals and monoculture.
If you want to know even more about organic and heirloom seeds, check out West Coast Seeds, where you can filter your options with labels such as certified organic, heirloom and more for a customized shopping experience.
HYBRID SEEDS VS HEIRLOOM SEEDS
Hybrid seeds are produced by cross-pollinating or combining two different varieties of the same plant. They aren’t necessarily bad, but you can’t save seeds from them as reliably as you can from heirloom seeds.
If a seed has been in cultivation for 50 or more years, it is considered an heirloom seed (as defined on the West Coast Seeds website). Heirloom seeds are passed down from generation to generation using a process called open pollination.
I have had success with both hybrids and heirlooms, but my preference is to garden with heirloom seeds. In the past, I’ve made some interesting mistakes with cross-pollination and seed saving.
The first was when I made the mistake of planting a watermelon and a butternut squash within a few feet of each other. I knew that pumpkins could cross-pollinate with each other, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to get a butternut squash/watermelon frankensquash. And don’t ask what it tastes like, because I was so grossed out that I just threw it in the compost.
The second mishap was when I first started seriously seed saving. I had these lilac Potomac snapdragons that I just loved, and I seed-saved a bunch of them. My germination was good, the plants were strong and all was well. . . until they started blooming. Instead of a pointed shape, some of my snaps were somehow. . . circular? Like a clump of snapdragon bits circular!?
I actually kind of liked them and found them really easy to arrange bouquets with. However, if I was selling wholesale, that batch would have been useless!
BEST HEIRLOOM & ORGANIC SEEDS
West Coast Seeds has some of the best and most affordable heirloom seeds I’ve purchased. Below are some of my favourite fruit, vegetable, and flower varieties that I’ve grown both from West Coast Seeds and elsewhere.
If you’re looking for more places to buy seeds, check out these blog posts: 35+ Canadian Seed Companies & Nurseries to Order the Garden or Landscape of your Dreams and The Best Companies to Purchase Cut Flower Seeds for your Backyard Flower Farm.
FRUIT & VEGETABLE VARIETIES
My favourite heirloom tomato varieties include Costoluto Genovese and Hungarian Heart. If you’re someone who actually likes the taste of raw tomatoes, you’d probably enjoy Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, or an Old German… or so I hear from my tomato-loving family.
Heirloom pumpkins tend to be the prettiest pumpkins. Some of my favourite varieties include Cinderella, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Jarrahdale, and Moranga. If you want to save your own seeds, you’ll have to either spread your different pumpkin varieties far apart or hand-pollinate every pumpkin.
Another reason I love heirloom pumpkins is that you can arrange gorgeous fall bouquets inside them, like this one:
This year is the first year I have successfully saved lettuce seeds. The germination on the seeds I saved from my Red Sails was so much better than the old seeds. Other lettuce varieties I love include Butter Crunch, which I plant every year, and Freckles, which is super hearty and always comes up.
Cut Flower VARIEtiES
Like all plants grown from heirloom seeds, heirloom cut flowers are perfect for seed saving. Below are some of my favourite heirloom flowers to seed save, suitable for any level of gardening expertise.
Check out these blog posts if you want to grow even more seed-saving varieties in your cut flower garden: 5 Easy Annual Flowers for Beginner Seed Savers and The 3 Easiest Cut Flowers to Save From Seed.
I seed save Feverfew every year. Here they’re pictured with Cracker Jack Marigolds, another easy-to-seed-save cut flower.
Bells of Ireland
Inside each bell, you’ll find a little white bit that is made up of four seeds. It’s so easy to save seeds from, and everybody loves to find Bells of Ireland in their bouquet.
A staple in every garden, especially if you have little people in your life. You can get many different mixes, but my favourite will always be the classic blue. I also love how the seeds look like tiny paintbrushes.
I am a huge fan of Strawflowers and find them very straightforward to seed save. When they explode like a Dandelion, they’re done!
If you want to know more about picking cut flower seeds, check out this post: A Cut Flower Garden For $100? Yes, It’s Possible, where I walk you through buying seeds for and planning a budget-friendly cut flower garden.
Let me know in the comments if you plan to buy organic or heirloom seeds this season. Have you had success in the past with these types of seeds? I always love to hear about your gardening journeys!
And if you want to learn more about saving seeds from annual flowers, check out my ebook Savvy Seed Saving where I take you from confused to confident, no matter which zone you garden in!