The Art of Saving Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Reader Contribution by Natalie Schaefer
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“At the time, I assumed everyone had grandparents who hoarded rare seeds, enjoyed food they grew themselves and dabbled in the kind of connoisseurship that comes from eating only what is fresh and local (especially your own). I was soon to learn that this was not the case and that what we had found in the freezer was a major collection of very rare seeds, very rare indeed.”

This quote from William Woys Weaver’s Harvesting Our Heirloom History pinpoints the moment when heirloom seed preservation became his lifework.

Weaver describes heirloom seed saving as the link to a rich horticultural and culinary heritage. In his book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and Cultural History, he takes readers through the seed saving mastery of indigenous peoples and the waves of immigrant farmers and homesteaders who followed.

Weaver’s book profiles 280 heirloom varieties, with authoritative growing advice and incredible recipes. He highlights the strength that comes from diversity in plants and walks gardeners through sowing, cooking recipes at harvest and saving seeds through the winter. 

First published in 1997, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening has since gone out of print, with used copies selling online for as much as $300. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has brought the guide back as a digital book on CD-ROM.

Weaver’s family heirlooms have been hand-selected and saved over time in a relationship between plant and gardener. Why do generations of growers put in the effort? Heirlooms are an asset to any vegetable patch because they have been selected for flavor, resistance to pests and diseases, and other traits that make them best-suited to a home gardener. They are also an important element of food security and self-sufficiency because, unlike hybrids, heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, meaning they reproduce themselves from seed.

Weaver’s work at preservation and documentation helps us to understand more of our roots. Stay tuned to the Grow It! blog for excerpts from Weaver’s classic book on heirloom seeds and vegetables.

To find and purchase heirloom seeds, check out the Heritage Doubleday Research Association , Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH and MOTHER’s custom Seed and Plant Finder.

Natalie Mae Schaefer is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .