6 December 2011

Heirloom seeds - two new hits in our garden

We plod along most years planting the same varieties of vegetables that worked for us in previous seasons. We've been growing vegetables for a long time now, we used to chop and change but as the years went by we established a set of reliable growers that stood us in good stead. But every so often, we explode into spontaneity again and try something different, new open pollinated seeds. Sometimes it works well and that plant will be added to our permanent rotation list, most of the time our experiment isn't as good in our conditions as what we're already using and after that season it's forgotten.

Not this year though. This year we tried a few new varieties of tomatoes and some new (to us) radishes. This year we met St Pierre tomatoes and Easter Egg radishes for the first time and they've won us over, completely.

St Pierre is a French heirloom tomato and has pushed the pink Brandywine off top perch as our favourite tomato.  Sorry Brandywine, I was yours for many years, now my heart belongs to another.

We usually grow Daikons and French breakfast radishes and although we'll keep growing the Daikons, Easter Egg radishes have replaced French breakfast for us. They have such vibrant colours - red, purple, white and pink. They're crisp and tasty and not too hot; ideal for a touch of crispy heat and crazy colour in a salad. 

Both these vegetables are open pollinated varieties so I've already saved seeds from the St Pierre; they're now fermenting in water in the kitchen. Soon I'll clean them, let them dry out completely, then save them for sowing next year. The radishes are starting to flower now, soon I'll collect their seeds and store them in the fridge, along with other collected seeds for next year's planting.

There are several reasons to sow open pollinated seeds (also known as heirloom seeds). Every year they grow in your backyard, they change slightly to suit your conditions, and when you have the vegetables growing you won't have to buy new seeds again. You can collect seeds from hybrid vegetables but it's a waste of time because they won't reproduce true to the parent plant. If you do this right, you'll buy seeds once, after that you save seeds, only buying again if you add a new vegetable or variety or your crop fails.

Seeds are such a valuable commodity. Whoever controls seeds controls the world's food production. We must keep these heirloom seeds going. If you can do this in your own backyard, you'll help keep those seeds viable and productive and you'll be much more self-reliant. I could go on and on about how the big seed companies are manipulating seeds but that would be a waste of my time and yours. I prefer instead to actually do something myself. When we decided all those years ago to grow open pollinated seeds and to save them year after year, it was a deliberate act of a radical backyard grower. I might not be able to influence the big seed companies but I can choose to plant heirloom vegetables; that means something. The only reason we have these seeds still here with us today is that many generations before us knew the value of seeds and made the effort to pass them on to us. I don't want all that care and effort to die out in my generation and I want tasty vegetables - therefore I grow open pollinated seeds.

Of course it's easier to buy hybrid seeds, they're in almost every supermarket and hardware store. But now we have all been empowered by the internet, not only can I write this for you to read in your far-off corner of the world today, but it's given us ways of connecting to traders of open pollinated/heirloom seeds. If you google "open pollinated seeds" in your State or country, you'll be surprised at the number of small vendors who pop up. Most of them sell exclusively online so all you have to do is to email for a catalogue or view it online, then order your seeds. It will cost you about the same to set yourself up with open pollinated seeds but if you do it right, you'll only outlay that expense once and you'll have your own repository of seeds to sow and save, and to pass on to your children and grandchildren.

I believe it's worth the effort, I hope you do too.


  1. Did you protect your radishes in any way from being pollinated by the other variety? I'd like to save more of my own seeds but am wondering if it's going to be worth it in an allotment setting. So many of my fellow gardeners allow their veg to go to seed and I'm a bit worried about cross-pollination.

  2. I like 'seed savers', its a company here in the US. Their seeds have done well for us (except the onions, but I think that was my fault), and the catalog is so beautiful!

  3. I've joined a seed swappers group that was started on the Simple Savings forum. We're swapping seeds like mad!

  4. Ah Rhonda, a subject close to my own heart. I wholeheartedly agree with your third last paragraph. I tell everyone I meet about this. I have not yet joined my local Seedsaver Network but looking to do that soon - I think it will be well worth it. Thank you for bringing this topic to people's attention; it is quite scary what is being done with GM and the power that the large multinationals have over local farmers. Kindest Regards, Miki

  5. Hi Rhonda - I think I'll try heirlooms again. I had a bad experience with some that I got locally, but I think I'll get online and try to find some more. Those St. Pierres DO look gorgeous - I assume it's the large tomatoes in the front.

    My son and his wife have moved to New Zealand in the Wellington area. I know it's still a ways from you there in Australia, but looking over there from Texas it seems to be in your backyard! They'll be there for a year traveling and working and helping some churches along the way. I'll have to check out some bloggers from that area!

  6. Hi, I am a member of the Digger's Club here in Australia, and they have a great range of heirloom seeds and articles on taking back control of our seed supply. I love the interesting varieties that are available!

  7. Thank you for the advice Rhonda. Now that I finally have my vegetable garden going, I'll look into this for the future. Maa

  8. DH must have brought home an open pollinating variety of tomato last year as I have a wonderfully fruiting 'feral' tomato plant at the side of the house with delicious fruit. The hens 'planted' it for me as they managed the odd taste of any tomatoes growing too close the protecting mesh :). I'll be saving the seeds from this one.

  9. Oh Rhonda, I love you for writing about this. Water and food could become the new oil. Individually, we have little influence on the multi-billion dollar corporations. So, we put our efforts into protection on a personal level. As mega companies strive for world control, perhaps, at some point it may be the everyday folks who rescue the world.

    brenda from arkansas

  10. I agree wholeheartedly Rhonda! I'm so very grateful that you wrote about this because you have such a big audience, and I suspect many people are unaware of just how urgent it is that we work to save heirloom seeds. We love Fedco as a source for seeds, and have a local source for excellent seed potatoes here in Colorado USA called "The Potato Garden."

  11. I've heard of Easter Egg radishes but never heard of St Pierre tomatoes.
    Brandywine tomatoes are quite well liked in my area. I have a short growing season.
    On the radish usual we plant them fair early. But this year we did a crop later in season and it was more responsive.
    One thing I might try our next growing season is greyuchni. It some type of zucchini. So far I've got two seed catalogs.

    Coffee is on.

  12. I haven't heard of the easter egg radishes, I'll keep a look out. I always get my seeds from Diggers or Green Harvest...there's another one too that is great but the name escapes me now.

    I always think sadly of the old tried and tested lovingly nurtured heirloom seeds. Much as I think sadly of the old true chook breeds as compared with the hens most popular these days bred for production.

  13. Thanks again Rhonda, for this great tip. I hope many people will follow. Step by step we can make a better world, and thanks to you more and more people will know about it.

    Great thanks from Holland!

    P.S. We also have the St. Pierre and love them!

  14. Have you tried Green Zebra? They are our new favourite.
    Every year I grow St Pierre and it's always delicious. I also tried Yellow Stuffer this year. It has few seeds and the inside is practically hollow. Its an excellent stuffing tomato and holds its shape well when cooked.
    Bon appetit!
    Helen in France

  15. Hi

    I love the fact that I'm reading about you selecting seeds for planting, while here in Scotland we are deep in snow, crochet blankets, and hot chocolate. The only seeds I have at the moment are out on the bird table, keeping the little feathery guys going through another winter.

    I think that's the great thing about blogs - you can get a little peek into other people's world.

    Best Wishes

  16. I can't wait to try the tomatoes and radishes you mentioned. I love saving the seeds of our favorite crops.
    Susan from Michigan USA

  17. My sentiments exactly.

    Here in the US we have an online community called Gardenweb and there is a seed-trading forum where you can list what you have and invite traders. It is not uncommon to find someone who has quite a few things you want to try, if you work out a fair trade you can end up with a package of many different seeds for just the price of postage.

    Growing OP's is also a very frugal way to garden, when most commercial seed packets (containing sometimes only ten seeds) can run about $2.50 US. Plus shipping costs. That adds up really fast.

    I keep my saved seeds in the freezer after they are nice and dry. I feel like it extends their viability.

    This summer I'm going to be trying OP strawberry seed.

  18. Thank you for this post. I have dabbled in saving my seeds the past few years; sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I am in Minnesota and spend many winter hours paging through my Seed Savers catelog dreaming of spring! Just wondering if you could recommend some of your favorite seeds to start a collection with in addition to those mentioned in this post. Thank you for everything you share....you have changed how I approach so many things in my life now. Blessings to you and your family this Christmas.

  19. Thank you for sharing this Rhonda. We live in South Africa and have tried heirloom seeds from different sources several times. The results weren't too good and promising. Also we were told it would be better to swap seed because with time the strength of and food in the plant reduces. So I am really glad to see that one can carry on for years with generations of seeds so to say.

  20. Hi Rhonda, I have been saving my seeds for years also. Recently I had such a lot I sold some on Ebay, made a nice little sum and then I visited Green Harvest seeds and bought a whole lot of new varieties to try. Was such a treat.
    But I noticed that a lot of people who bought or inquired about my seeds were looking for open pollinated and heirloom. A good feeling!

  21. Monsanto and GM has alot to answer for. That is their aim to control the food supply. How good is that saving your seeds from previous crop. We should all be doing that. I learned something new.Heirloom is the way to go to save seeds. Thank you Rhonda.

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