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Grow Your Own Heirloom Garden


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Photo by Marie Flanagan

Family heirlooms come in various shapes in sizes. In my family, our heirloom jewels come in the form of garden seeds. During harvest season, my mom carefully saves seeds from the sturdy plants in her prolific garden. You know what I adore about that? The beans, tomatoes, and dill that I plant today are the same seeds of the same garden goodies that I ate as a kid. The tradition is nostalgic and interesting to me. Each time I bite into a fresh “rattlesnake pole bean” or a “scarlet runner bean” bean from my garden, I think of my hard-working mom, her soil-stained knees, and her beloved garden.

People who are “seed savers” are especially interested in the concept of heirloom varieties. The Seed Savers Exchange defines an heirloom as "any garden plant that has a history of being passed down within a family, just like pieces of heirloom jewelry or furniture. Some companies have tried to create definitions based on date, such as anything older than 50 years."

Heirlooms come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, from tomatoes to perennial flowers. If you’re really curious about all the heirloom varieties available, check out the heirloom plant resource book put out by the Andersen Horticultural Library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum–it records all of plants offered by mail order from a myriad of catalogs.

Now you can become part of the ever-growing seed saver/heirloom seed movement. Don’t have a family member saving seeds? No problem. You can still get your green thumbs on some “saved seeds” by visiting a local store with a Seed Savers Exchange rack. Don’t know where to find Seed Savers seeds? Find the store selling them closest to you on the Seed Savers’ website.

Perhaps you’re not interested in starting from seed and would rather plant heirloom plants seedlings? No problem there either. From farmers markets, to co-ops, to garden centers, many folks are selling seedlings grown from heirloom seeds. In addition to farmers markets and co-op plant sales, here are a few locations where you can get your green thumbs on some heirloom seedlings:

If you know a person who saves seeds, consult the oracle. In my experience, I’ve found that folks who save seeds are generally fountains of knowledge on the topic, and might even be willing to share a seedling or two with you to help you get started. And if you’re a seed saver and have a great resource to share, please do so in the comments section below.


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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

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