What is a heirloom?
What constitutes a heirloom in the gardening world is fiercely debated.
Some people use a definite age or date to delineate the line between heirlooms and non-heirlooms varieties. For instance, some would argue that to qualify as a heirloom, a tomato variety has to be over 25 years old or 50 years old. Others use the year 1945, the end of World War II, as this also roughly marks the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies in commercial agriculture.
Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word heirloom in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.
This interpretation, as well as the definite age interpretation, means that new varieties are added to the heirloom family as times goes on. At Ethos Seed Company, we use the later definition for those varieties that qualify as heirlooms as many do not have a specific creation date, but a rich history that is sometimes sprinkled with myth. It is a loser interpretation but one that we feel is more accurate.
Regardless of a person's specific interpretation, every experts agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated.
In summary, a heirloom is an open-pollinated variety of flower or vegetable that has passed the test of time, from one generation of gardener to another.
What does open-pollinated mean?
The term open-pollinated is used to designate a variety of flower or vegetable that breeds true to type. This means that when seeds are collected from a plant from a specific variety and then grown for another generation, the result will be offspring that express the same characteristic as the parent plants.
Some people could argue that every variety that exist today was once a hybrid - and they would be right. The process of stabilizing a new variety in an open-pollinated form that can be relied upon to produce consistent results is as old as gardening itself. From the very beginning, farmers and gardeners all over the world have been selecting plants for their specific needs and preferences, resulting in the wonderful array of vegetables and flowers we enjoy today. At Ethos Seed Company, we love to explore those new varieties and offer them to the public.
So, whether a variety is a heirloom or not, if it is open-pollinated it means it can be used to produce and save seeds with consistent results from generation to generation.
What is a hybrid?
Many sources place at 1951 the first year that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties although it wasn't until the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade.
By definition, a hybrid is the result of a cross between two varieties with the intent to produce tailored results in the first generation offspring. Most often, the desired traits are disease resistance, increased yield and shipping qualities.
Sounds good, right?
Not so fast.
By design, commercial hybrids are produced using parent plants whose exact origins are shrouded in shadows, often with a high level of secrecy to ensure the resulting first generation hybrids cannot be replicated. This gives the company producing these hybrids a great advantage on the marketplace compared to heirlooms and other open-pollinated varieties, as consumers have to keep buying the seeds year after year.
But this is a conversation for another day! The reality of hybrids is that they cannot be used to produce seeds with predictable quality results in future generations.
Many also argue that commercial hybrids that are widely available today have a lessened degree of nutrition. This can be explained by the lack of interest in the large corporation that produce these hybrids in the nutrition content of the crops, rather focusing on things such as yield and shipping qualities, which are more important for the commercial success of the crops than taste and nutrition.
In short, hybrids are created for profit, while heirlooms and other newer open-pollinated varieties are created for enjoyment.
Why does it matter?
Heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of flower, herbs and vegetables are not only precious windows into the past, but essential to retain the genetic diversity of our germplasm.
At Ethos Seed Company, we believe the only way to protect the wealth of biodiversity of in our seeds is to promote their value by growing them.
After all, the best way to celebrate them is to marvel at their beauty, their smell, their flavor. We want you to feel the wonder of these unique varieties just as much as we do!
This is how we preserve and cherish all those varieties in the way they were meant to be. By growing them, by enjoying them and by passing them on to the next generation of gardener.
Do you have a seed catalog?
As a very small seed company, we focus all our efforts on producing, procuring and promoting the select varieties that do well in our New England climate.
We may not have the resources to produce a massive printed catalogue, but we promise that our most up-to-date variety availability is listed right here on our webstore.
Do you have _________?
Everything that is currently available is listed on our website. If you cannot find the seed that you’re looking for on our website, it is because we do not sell it. Feel free to contact us to let us know of your interest! We are always looking for new, interesting varieties to offer our clients.
______ is out of stock. When will it be available to purchase?
If the seed that you’re searching for is “Out of Stock” it means that we do not currently have any available for sale. As most of the seeds we sell are produced right here in our farm, when they’re sold out for the season, they’re sold out!