Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's The Story on Heirloom Produce?

Heirloom produce! What, exactly, is heirloom produce and how are they different from non-heirloom variety? 
There are many definitions of heirloom plants. Most agree that they are plants that were developed before World War II, are open pollinated, and are not genetically modified (GMO). These plants should not depend on huge amounts of chemicals being used to kill anything else in the field, as some modern seed does.
Open pollinated means that the plant will breed true. If you save the seeds from one year and plant them the next, you will get plants just like the previous plants. Many of today's seeds are hybrids. If you save the seeds and sow them the next year, you will get a plant that is unpredictable. It will not look like its’ parents, but will favor one or the other in ways that are just impossible to tell. Farmers that use hybrid plants must buy new seed every year to get the expected crop.
Genetically modified crops are variously viewed as the salvation of man or the instrument of its’ destruction. GMO crops have genetic material from unrelated species inserted into their genetic material to add desirable characteristics and mitigate undesirable ones. Corn is the classic GMO crop right now. Genes have been added to make it more tolerant to pesticides and to kill caterpillars that are munching on it. Because corn is pollinated by the wind, one field can contaminate thousands of acres with GMO pollen!
Some groups growing heirloom plants add a requirement that the plants came passed down in families, not maintained by seed companies. 
The biggest advantage of heirloom plants is their genetic diversity. Heirloom plants are typically more expensive than hybrid plants. However, they taste good, come in strange and wonderful colors and shapes, and work to keep plants alive that would otherwise die out. 
Next time you are browsing the produce section at the store give the heirloom produce a try next time and I'm sure you won't be disappointed one bit! If you are into growing your own plants look for heirloom seeds either online or at your favorite nursery.  
This information was gathered from http://www.weekendgardener.net ~ Thank you!

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