Heirloom Seeds


Living in the Garden City has inspired many people to search for their inner green thumb.  (We’ve actually gotten really good at growing thistles in our yard, but that’s not really what most of you are aiming for, right?) If you’re one of the many who wants to try your hand at growing some of your own food this year, I have a piece of reuse advice for you: look for heirloom seeds.

Heirloom vegetables are varieties that are open-pollinated, meaning the plants grow and just naturally do their thing…without interference from a human crossing plant pollen or genes to make new and different plants.

The seeds of the successful plants are then saved and planted the next year. Over time, plants in different areas adapt not only to their growing conditions but to the pests and beneficial insects within that area.

There is a whole debate on genetic diversity in food crops and how it relates to basically keeping humanity afloat. If you’d like to learn more, just Google “heirloom seeds” or visit www.seedsavers.org.

But key to THIS forum is the fact that you can REUSE seeds from heirloom varieties year after year…meaning you only have to buy them once.

Peas are particularly easy to save, as is corn, since the pieces you eat are the seeds. Just let them dry on the plant, pull them off, and save them in a cool, dry place until next year.

You can save seeds from just about any heirloom plant: tomatoes, plums, beans. I personally think the bigger seeds are easier…I have yet to try harvesting lettuce or carrot seeds. Both are pretty tiny.

You can also let the plant just go to seed in place, and see what comes up next year. I have chamomile and sunflowers pretty much all over my garden because of this. I don’t even buy the seeds anymore, knowing that plants will turn up somewhere and I can relocate them if need be.

There are a few big names in the heirloom seed business—Seed Savers Exchange is probably the most well-known. Irish Eyes/Garden City Seeds also offers lots of heirloom varieties as well. One or both are available at The Good Food Store, Ace Hardware and many other spots around town.

Even better than buying seeds though is organizing a seed swap. I recently got together with some other garden geeks…er…friends and we all brought our seeds to share. Some were seeds we’d saved by hand, others were just leftovers from old packets. The benefit to this approach is you get to hear how the particular plant performed for someone else.

Storing your seeds can be as fancy (or not) as you want. Throw them all in a basket and keep them in the garage over winter, or make up some fancy seed packets out of scraps of craft paper. I’ll let you guess which one happens at my house (hint: garage) although I unearthed a couple sets of spice jars that I think will do nicely for this year’s harvest.

Now, if only could remember where I put my garden gloves for safe keeping….

Click here to see Lisa Hensley’s Reuse It Archive.


Lisa Hensley is a mostly-native Montanan, living in Missoula with her husband, two young boys, two cats (boys), one tiny dog (a girl!) and 4 fish (probably boys). She spent more than 10 years in the Marketing and creative field, but is now Director of Household Operations for the Hensley group. When she’s not herding kids or doing laundry, she’s shooting photos, gardening, baking, reading or taking classes—sometimes all at once. She serves on the Board of Directors for Home ReSource, which fits in nicely with her tendency to repurpose pretty much anything.