Purple Podded PeasOf late, I’ve been delving into the wonderful world of heirloom seeds.  After all, why plant ordinary green peas when you can get the purple-podded variety?  Or plain lettuces when you can have ‘cinnamon cos’, or ‘butter blush’?

So what’s an ‘heirloom’ plant, and what’s so special about it?

An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. (via WikiPedia)

Unlike most commercially available seed, heirloom seeds come from plants that have been carefully chosen for more interesting characteristics than how long they’ll stay fresh, or how well they handle packing, storing and transport.  Most heirloom seeds are selected for flavour, or quirky shapes and colours, or some peculiarity specific to a region.

Heirloom lettuceSo, whilst I understand the need for docile, dependable seeds that are bred for their performance and reliability, I definitely prefer something a little bit quirkier (in looks and in flavour).

Problem is, though, one doesn’t generally find heirloom seeds or seedlings at nurseries…probably because the seed isn’t quite as easily available, or as popular (yet).    So when one of my fellow Food Collective/Harvest Share creators came up with the idea of a Winter Heirloom Seedling Share, I was ecstatic and very happy to be on board.

Winter Heirloom Seedling Share in a nutshell:

Sourcing heirloom seed varieties from three major local seed suppliers, we have asked the green-thumbed folk at Soil For Life to grow 11 different types of heirloom winter seeds into seedlings for us.

With each share you buy, you will receive FOUR 6-pack seedling trays containing the following heirloom vegetables:

  1. Heirloom Lettuce 6-pack (EITHER Forellenschluss Lettuce, Cinnamon Cos OR Butter Blush)
  2. Heirloom Pea 6-pack (EITHER Weggis Peas, Capuchin Peas OR Purple Podded Blauschokkers)
  3. Heirloom Broccoli OR Cauliflower 6-pack (EITHER Romanesco Broccoli, Calabrese Broccoli OR Sicilian Violet Cauliflower)
  4. Heirloom Cabbage OR Kale 6-pack (EITHER Perfection Drumhead Savoy Cabbage OR Nero di Toscana Kale)

Each 6-pack tray contains 6 organic seedlings of one variety (these are not mixed seedling trays). 24 seedlings in total.  Shares cost R110 each, which works out to R27.50 per tray.  Part of this cost goes back to Soil For Life, an NGO based in Constantia which is doing incredible work in townships and other communities, teaching people how to grow their own food.

Our little seedlings are growing right now – and should be ready by the end of May/early June.  Numbers are limited, but there are still some shares available, so if you’d like to try your hand at planting some heirloom seedlings this winter, visit the Harvest Share page, get the full details and sign up!

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