Growing Tomatoes
Heritage varieties taste so much better than supermarket-bought produce!

Here’s a great combination in a very small package! And it doesn’t cost much either.

Heirloom seeds (aka heritage seeds) produce great-tasting veggies, fruit and herbs along with seeds you can plant for more great produce next season. An added bonus is that you’ll also be helping to preserve our collective gardening heritage.

Most commercial enterprises grow only a few varieties of any particular fruit, vegetable or herb. It makes sense for them to choose what to grow on the basis of what can survive transport and storage conditions and still look good in the supermarket. If they look good enough to eat, that’s what consumers will buy. 

So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, appearances can be deceptive. If those lovely red tomatoes and colourful apples don’t live up to expectations, it could be you’re eating a variety that transports well but lacks the yumminess of older varieties. The older, tastier varieties might have disappeared because they bruise more easily during transport, don’t store well for long periods, or simply aren’t highly productive on the farm or in the orchard. 

You may already know you can avoid some of those issues by growing your own produce in the backyard, on your balcony, or in the local community garden. But a growing number of modern varieties are hybrids. And that means any seeds they produce are likely to either be non-viable – they won’t grow into new plants, or any plants that do grow just won’t be as good their parents. Commercial growers often prefer hybrid seeds and plants because they know their customers will have to come back to buy more every year. 

In contrast, heirloom seeds are ‘open-pollinating’. They’re naturally pollinated, most likely by wind, insects or birds. Their seeds will probably grow like the parent plant. However, they could also surprise you as a result of natural genetic variation, something plant breeders have used for centuries to develop new varieties with better or more unusual characteristics. So preserving heritage means using seeds like those in the 2 packets to the left and not the others on the right of this picture.

Growing plants from seed makes a lot of sense when you’re on a limited budget. Per plant they’re much cheaper than seedlings, and easier to purchase online. Buying heirloom seeds makes sense too, because you won’t have to buy new seeds every year. You could also look for a local seed swapping network to help you broaden your collection. 

Sustainable Gardening Australia strongly supports the use of heirloom seeds. Many garden centres stock these. Our FOSGA webpage lists several good heirloom seed suppliers. When you join FOSGA for just $25 a year, you can get heirloom seeds at discount prices from some online suppliers, which means that using your garden to recreate and share history just got even cheaper. 

Further reading 

Growing plants from seed 

When nature produces plants that set seed, it usually means that this is the best way for the plant to reproduce. 

Heritage veggies 

The best reason to grow heirloom veggies may be this: they are dead easy, even for beginner green thumbs! 

Know your seeds 

Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi and some Asian varieties all come from the ‘wild cabbage’ native to southern and western Europe. 

Penny Woodward on sustainability 

For over 10,000 years, humans have been breeding vegetables and fruit trees, developing tens and hundreds of thousands of different varieties that can be used in different countries and different climates to feed everyone. But since the early 1900s we’ve lost nearly 90% of those due to industrial agriculture.