This year I've got a stash of heirloom seeds to try, a souvenir of a fall trip to Seed Savers Exchange, a mecca for heirloom devotees near Decorah, Iowa. It's worth the trip just for the gorgeous drive through the Driftless region or the trails on the farm. But the highlight is the gardens that show you all sorts of oddities, rarities and possibilities. Many of the seeds of the plants marked out in the garden are available in their sales room or in their catalog (you can order a catalog or find the digital version at seedsavers.org).
Seed Savers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, and is one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. And behind each seed variety is a story. The labels tell the source of the seeds, many of which otherwise would be lost over time as many gardeners defaulted to hybrid options widely available rather than saving seeds.
The names often hint at their background: Nebraska Bride tomatoes, for instance. Here's Seed Saver's history of the Wapsipinicon tomato: "Originated with Elbert S. Carman in 1890 under the name White Peach. This strain came from Dennis Schlicht and is named after the Wapsipinicon River in northeast Iowa.." Now that's knowing where your food comes from.
Last year I also saved some seeds from a farmers market melon billed as heirloom.We'll see how that turns out. (Best not to try this with hybrid seeds unless you're just interested in experimenting, since seeds from hybrids don't yield a predictable result.)
Are you an heirloom fan or do you prefer hybrids bred for disease resistance and other laudable characteristics? (I grow a bit of both.) What kinds have you tried and which ones do you recommend? Remember, every time you save a seed, you save a story.