A few weeks ago I was introduced to the Populuxe Seed Bank by Laura from Cubits. I immediately contacted Kelly to request a handful or beautiful heirloom seeds for our summer garden. She was kind enough to send two varieties of pole beans and two varieties of tomato in the mail for us.
I also seized the opportunity to pick her brain a little. I know garden week is technically over, but it is still planting season. This was one of my most fascinating interviews to date! It is packed full of interesting tidbits and tons of informational nuggets for the beginner or experienced gardener.
Can you define ‘heirloom’ to us?
The term “heirloom” can be a little nebulous at times, with no strictly standardized definition. In most cases, however, heirloom (or heritage) refers to any plant variety that is 50 years or older that is open-pollinated (open-pollinated meaning that the plant is non-hybridized, and will produce seeds that produce offspring like the parent plant by natural means). So all heirlooms are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are necessarily heirlooms. An example is Tomato ‘Green Zebra’ which is frequently called an heirloom, but hasn’t reached the age where it can yet be called as such.
Why grow heirlooms as opposed to common varieties?
Where to begin? There are actually many heirlooms that are quite common varieties! Many leafy greens you can purchase as starts are heirloom or OP, and it’s becoming more and more common to find heirloom tomatoes, squash, and peppers as starts at nurseries. When considering heirloom (or OP) vs. hybrid varieties – it’s where my anti-establishmentism makes its roots really known – there’s a self-sufficiency to open pollinated varieties that you can’t achieve with hybrids. Since you can save your own seeds, you don’t have to purchase (more expensive) starts year after year, or even seeds. There’s also the ability to have plants become more adapted to your area if you grow and select your own seed every year. While there are some hybrids that are trying to emulate the classic heirloom flavours, in my experience none can come close. You compare a beefstake hybrid tomato with a ‘Cherokee Purple’ heirloom tomato, and there is absolutely no contest. So even if you couldn’t give a damn about the politics of our food system, the flavour difference alone is well worth it. I figure, if you’re going to put that much time and effort into growing your own food, why not get the best possible flavour you can get?
What is next for the seed bank?
It’s grown so rapidly, I’m still struggling to catch up just with storage (and requests)! What I would like to do next is set up some kind of membership, have a network of people to do breeding projects with, and set up a network of independent seed banks so we can share resources and varieties to ensure the widest possibly distribution of them. There’s a million things I want to do!
What are some of your all-time favorite heirloom varieties you have run across so far?
Some of my absolute favourites (and I’m going to include open-pollinated in here just to round it out!) is ‘Stupice’, ‘Silvery Fir Tree’, ‘Tsygan’, and ‘German Cascade’. Of course if you ask me on a different day it can always change because my mind just never stays made up! ‘Stupice’ is a great standard that seems to grow well just about anywhere and always gives huge yields. ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ is great for containers, and the foliage is totally unique. ‘Tsygan’ is a Russian commercial variety that thrives in really hot, humid climates, and ‘German Cascade’ is a little unassuming red tomato – about the size of a tennis ball, that has a very unique flavour that’s difficult to describe (and you will either love it or hate it).
What is your biggest tip for beginning gardeners?
Don’t get discouraged! I know a lot of beginner gardeners – and I was in the exact same boat – have a less than stellar first year. It’s easy to get discouraged when your plants become ravaged with disease or pests, or your harvests or poor, or the food isn’t as tasty as you thought it was going to be. Gardening is as much about discovery and learning as the harvest, so take each season as a learning experience, and build on that new knowledge each year. It will get easier, and things will become second nature. And be prepared to never finish learning and experimenting, because there will always be something new to incorporate into your knowledge and techniques.
All images courtesy of Populuxe.