Why Heirloom Seeds?
Learn more about Open-Pollination
An open pollinated variety
In the early part of this century, most produce was locally grown. Vegetables and flowers were primarily selected for their looks, flavor, ability to perform well in an organic environment, and local adaptability. It was also important for crops to ripen over a long season so harvests could be extended. Many people grew their own produce and put up much of it for winter. Industrial areas in cities were supplied with produce from the outlying areas. Vegetables were all open pollinated. End users that purchased vegetables generally had a relationship with the growers with perhaps only a corner store in between if anything. The goal of a grower was quality first and foremost because her/his livelihood depended on this relationship continuing.
During World War II, the United Stated made a concerted effort to ship large quantities of produce to Europe. After the war was over, for the first time there was the infrastructure in place to ship food over long distances. The commercial sector began to use this structure to raise produce where it could be done most cheaply and get it to everywhere else. This has continued through today. As you are probably aware, if you go into your local supermarket to buy produce, you will find primarily produce grown far away from you unless you live in a vegetable belt (California or Florida). Much of this produce is raised in near laboratory conditions. This set of growing methods brings a severely different set of selection criteria than did vegetable production pre WWII. Now, most vegetable varieties are selected for shipping ability, uniform ripeness, and ability to perform well in a chemical environment. Most seeds used are hybrid.
Here at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, we specialize in heirloom seeds because we believe that people, vegetables, and the communities that encompass them will all be healthier if we step back towards the older system. There is a huge need for a return to this healthy way to live today. We believe that people as a whole will be happier and healthier if they grow their own produce or purchase their produce from small local growers. Moreover, people deserve that the varieties selected for this production be locally adapted and delicious. In the world of heirloom seeds and nursery stock, there is a huge wealth of such carefully selected varieties for every bioregion in the world. This is not to say that wonderful open pollinated varieties are not today being developed, but as a matter of principal and practicality, it makes a lot of sense to preserve all the work that has already been done.
The word “Heirloom” is not an officially defined word (as the word “Organic” is). In other words, it is left up to the people using it to state what they mean. When we state that a variety is an heirloom, we mean that it is an open pollinated variety developed before 1940.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Cricket Rakita
More about Open-Pollination
Today, seeds are generally bred in an open pollinated environment, through a hybrid cross, and through genetic modification. Here at Southern Exposure Seeds Exchange, we specialize in open pollinated seeds.
Open pollinated seed saving is the oldest of the three methods, in all likelihood predating agriculture itself. All heirloom seeds are open pollinated. When a breeder raises a population of open pollinated plants that are of a like variety and keeps pollen from other varieties from entering the patch (generally accomplished with just distance from another variety), she or he will have the ability to save open pollinated seeds from the patch. If the best two thirds of the patch is used for the seed crop, the variety will generally hold it’s quality through the generations. If only the best half or fewer plants are saved for seed, the variety will generally improve.
Hybridization, on the other hand, is when some technical method is applied to two open pollinated varieties growing side by side to ensure that every seed has received pollen from one breed (the father) and is grown on a distinctly different breed (the mother). This is done in many methods, the most commonly know being corn detasseling. In this method, three rows of the father breed are planted, and then one of the mother, and over and over. The mother rows are detasseled (had their pollen removed) ensuring that any pollen they receive came from the father rows. The mother’s seeds can then be harvested as what is known as an F1 (first generation) hybrid. If the offspring of the F1 hybrid were all grown as an open pollinated variety and the seed saved, that would then be the F2 hybrid generation, and so on.
In order to understand why this is important to us at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, it is important to understand what the genetic ramifications of these two methods are. There are many many genes occurring in pairs on the chromosomes of every living organism. Of all those organisms that were sexually reproduced (including both discussed methods above), one of every pair of genes is received from the mother and the other from the father.
These genes pairing off on their chromosomes have all the preset genetic material to make the organism what it is. If the genes were different, the organism would look and act differently. In a hybridized variety, the two parents would each have different genes.
Different genes opposite each other on a chromosome are often represented by different capitalization of a letter. For example, if I were growing an open pollinated tomato that had a characteristic that was consistent, I could say that the gene controlling that characteristic would be represented by the G gene. As all of the mother and father plants share this characteristic, all of the plants in the patch would then have a GG for the matching pair of genes. Now if I had another variety of open pollinated tomato that had a different gene in that spot, I could say that variety has an xx in the same spot on the chromosome.
Now when I hybridize the two varieties to get the F1 generation, I can say they will all have a Gg in this spot, as they got one gene from the GG mother and one gene from the gg Father.
Now say we were to look at the F2 generation. Well, there are four possibilities. Either the seeds will get a G from the father and a G from the mother, a G from the father and a g from the mother, a g from the father and a G from the mother, or a g from the father and a g from the mother. Therefore, half of the plants will be Gg, a quarter will be gg, and a quarter will be GG.
Now say that there were a thousand different genes that were different between the original mother and father. Multiply the thousand by the three possibilities and you see you have the possibility for 3000 distinct varieties to emerge in the F2 generation.
Therefore, if you grow out an open pollinated variety and save it for seed, you will get offspring that are similar to the parents. On the other hand, if you purchase an F1 hybrid seed and you save it for seed and attempt to grow it for seed, the F2 generation will be a very random mix and will not serve any consistent need, as all the plants will be wildly different.
So if you grow an open pollinated variety and you like it, you can save it and adapt it for your area and enjoy the full pleasure of taking the plants through their entire life cycles as they produce for you from generation to generation. If you grow an F1 hybrid seed and you like it, you must go back to the source you purchased it from if you wish to grow it out again.
Source: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
The Quality Promise
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange started in 1982, and has been growing ever since. In 1999, we moved to a small collectively owned farm in Mineral, Virginia where we expanded our seed production, cultivation, and preservation facilities. This year, we have adopted many more heirlooms and added new varieties to our nationally known heirloom seed collection. Our seed varieties have been regularly featured in Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, and PBS’s “The Victory Garden” TV program. The success of our efforts is due to your confidence in us, plus some unique features of our seed company: Our seed varieties are produced by natural methods. We do not and never will offer genetically engineered varieties. 99% of our varieties are open-pollinated.]
Much of our seed is organically grown. All our seed is free of chemical treatment, and safe for children and the Earth. Our seed production methods emphasize the importance of a living healthy soil and respect for the interdependent web of life that sustains us all. We grow at least 40% of our own seed. We monitor and control the quality of our products from the source. Our seed growers are carefully screened before raising seed to our exacting specifications. Once the seed is harvested, it is stored under controlled climate conditions.
In our variety trials we look for valuable qualities such as flavor, color, disease-resistance, or adaptability for specific conditions or regions. Then we meticulously research the history of each variety and document performance under our growing conditions. Germination test are performed in our own facility and we print the results on the packet so that you know what you are getting. We don’t leave germination to the imagination, and our standards meet or exceed Federal Standards.
Quality customer service is important here. The priceless ingredient in every packet is the honor, integrity, and service of the staff at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Every time seeds are placed into a packet, we envision plants succeeding in your garden. Here’s to your gardening success!
Source: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
The Safe Seed Pledge
Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we will not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.
Source: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange