What Are Heirloom Seeds?

Inside: Heirloom seeds are a valuable and unique form of gardening and farming. They are old varieties that have been passed down and preserved.

Heirloom seeds are a valuable and unique form of gardening and farming heritage. They are ancient varieties that have been passed down and preserved by generations of gardeners and farmers, and they have been prized for their unique characteristics and flavors.

peppers with What Are Heirloom Seeds text overlay

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What Are Heirloom Seeds?

Ever wondered what makes heirloom seeds so special? This comprehensive guide reveals the history, benefits, and unique characteristics of heirloom seeds, helping you to understand why they're a prized choice for gardeners worldwide.

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Heirloom seeds are usually open-pollinated, meaning they can be saved and replanted year after year, passing on the same traits and characteristics to their offspring.

These seeds typically existed more than 50 years ago and have been carefully handed down through the generations.

In simple terms: The seeds you harvest from from your crops this year, can be planted next year to give you the same plants you grew this year.

Heirloom varieties are not tampered with or modified in any way. This results in a healthy bio-diversity of seed types that can often have better resistance to various crop diseases and many other benefits.

These can be a great way to start a garden and provide a connection to the past. Here are what heirloom seeds are, their history, and how you can use them in your garden.

seedlings in seed starting tray

Picking Heirloom Plants to Grow in Your Garden

Heirloom seeds are available from most garden nurseries and you can also order them online. We’ve featured a few heirloom seed sources below, but just Google the seed name and you’ll be sure to find additional websites to learn about heirloom seeds from!

Why Heirloom Seeds Matter

Heirloom seeds are vital for preserving genetic diversity. In an age where commercial agriculture promotes uniformity, heirlooms offer a counterbalance, ensuring that a wide range of plant species continues to thrive. This diversity is not just about preserving history; it's essential for ecosystem health, pest control, and climate resilience.

Flavor and Nutrition

Ask any chef or home cook, and they'll tell you that heirloom varieties often outshine their commercial counterparts in taste tests. Heirlooms are celebrated for their rich, diverse flavors and superior nutritional content, making them a favorite among food enthusiasts who seek authentic taste experiences.

Empowerment and Community

Growing heirloom seeds is an act of empowerment. It enables gardeners and farmers to become custodians of their food sovereignty, free from dependency on commercial seed producers. Moreover, heirloom seeds foster a sense of community. Seed-saving and sharing practices connect people, encouraging a collective stewardship of our plant heritage.

heirloom seeds in homemade envelopes tied with twine

Getting Started

Venturing into the world of heirloom gardening is an exciting journey. Start by selecting a few varieties that interest you. Whether it’s vegetables, fruits, or flowers, choose seeds that suit your climate and growing conditions.

Local seed swaps, heritage seed catalogs, and gardening communities are great resources for finding heirloom seeds.

Saving and Sharing Seeds

One of the joys of heirloom gardening is saving seeds for future seasons. It’s a simple yet profound way to participate in the cycle of growth and renewal.

By selecting the healthiest plants for seed saving, you’ll gradually develop a seed stock uniquely adapted to your garden. Sharing seeds with others not only helps to preserve biodiversity but also weaves a tapestry of communal bonds.

heirloom seeds in homemade envelopes and in small jars

Beans (bush)

  • Black Valentine
  • Brittle Wax
  • Burpee’s Stringless Green Pod
  • Fowler
  • Triomphe de Farcy

Beans (pole)

  • Scarlet Runner
  • Kentucky Wonder
  • Oregon Giant Snap
  • Potomac


  • Bull’s Blood
  • Chioggia
  • Early Blood Turnip


  • Calabrese
  • De Cicco
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  • Danvers Half Long
  • Red Cored Chantenay
  • Scarlet Nantes
  • St. Valery
  • Touchon


  • Ashworth
  • Golden Bantam
  • Utah King


  • Bushy
  • Double Yield
  • Straight Eight
  • White Wonder


  • Diamond
  • Ping Tung Long


  • Black Seeded Simpson
  • Paris White Cos
  • Tom Thumb
  • Winter Density
  • May Queen Lettuce
  • Little Gem
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  • Green Arrow (sweet peas)
  • Tom Thumb (sweet peas)

Peppers (Hot)

  • Black Hungarian
  • Hot Lemon
  • Hot Portugal

Peppers (Sweet)

  • Bull Nose
  • Healthy
  • Klari Baby Cheese


  • Cherry Bell
  • Crimpson
  • Easter Basket


  • Viroflay
  • Noble Giant

Squash (Summer)

  • Black Zucchini
  • Nimba
  • Yellow Crookneck

Squash (Winter)

  • Table Queen
  • Waltham Butternut

Sweet Potatoes

  • Carver
  • Georgia Jet
  • Ivis White Cream
  • Jumbo


  • Black Prince
  • Black Sea Man
  • Clear Pink Early
  • Czech’s Bush
  • Silvery Fir Tree
  • Sophie’s Choice
  • Stupice
  • Yellow Pear


  • Moon and Stars
  • Blacktail Mountain
  • Cream of Saskatchewan
  • Sweet Siberian

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    What does heirloom mean in seeds? An heirloom seed, therefore, is seed from a plant that has been passed from one generation to another, carefully grown and saved because it is considered valuable. Many heirlooms have been grown, saved and passed down for more than 100 years.

    Are heirloom seeds better than regular seeds? Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, so you can save seeds and have the same variety. They often produce better taste, but maybe less disease resistance.

    Do heirloom seeds expire? For short-term storage, such as for next year's garden, storing the seed jar in a cool, dark, moisture-free environment is sufficient. Stored this way will last for 3-5 years.

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