Our seeds and plants are heritage varieties but what does that mean?
There isn’t one universally agreed definition of the term “Heritage Seed” but all definitions agree that these are old varieties of seed. Our definition is seed that has never, to the best of our knowledge, been grown in the industrial system. It is a seed that has been passed on down for several, if not many generations in a distinct physical geographical area so that the seed is adapted to those local conditions and the people who grow and eat the food grown from those seeds.
Seeds are our cultural Taonga.
Does Heirloom seed mean the same as Heritage?
Broadly speaking the term ‘heirloom seed’ means the same as ‘heritage seed’. Both terms are used in Britain but heirloom is mostly used in the US.
NZ Heritage Seeds
Our seeds are not just heritage seeds but the bulk of the collection are New Zealand Heritage seeds. This means they have been in New Zealand for a long time and do well here.
Proven to suit New Zealand conditionsand we know their history or whakapapa.
Most of the plants in our collection have been in New Zealand for a very long time, brought here by different waves of settlers who treasured the familiar food plants from their homes. Some of the plants they brought adapted and thrived in the New Zealand conditions and continued to nourish families over generations, but then started to be lost as industrially produced food took over as the mainstay of people's diets.
Koanga's mission has been to save as many of the treasured New Zealand heritage varieties as possible and these form the basis of our collection. These plants are precious and have their own stories of how they came to be here. We not only collected the plant material and the seeds, but also the stories and whakapapa of these plants and the old people who ensured their survival until today. The beautiful diversity that we see in our heritage collection – in the flavours, shapes and colours, is a glimpse of the past varieties of all the vegetables. So when you buy from Koanga you are also connecting with a piece of our shared history.
Heritage seeds are open pollinated. This means that they are pollinated naturally by birds, insects, or wind or through self-pollination.
One very important aspect of open pollinated seeds is that, as long as they are isolated from other varieties in the same plant species, they grow true-to-type and their seeds can be saved to grow the same variety the following year.
Another important aspect is that because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year and evolve to suit changing conditions. Seeds that are open pollinated and grown in a healthy ecosystem, remain strong for the future, resistant to pests and diseases, are able to communicate with their ecological system and they create a strong resilient future for our food base.
What’s wrong with hybrids?
There is nothing inherently wrong with hybrids. Plants crossing and producing hybrids is the way that new varieties of plants were developed throughout the ages. There are disadvantages though in that hybrids don’t breed true and it can be a long process of selective breeding to stabilise a variety so that it does breed true. In addition many of the modern F1 hybrids have been bred in industrial systems to produce particular characteristics so are less genetically diverse. Koanga does not sell hybrids and we do not believe these are best for home gardeners.
Suitable for home gardeners and organic systems.
Heritage seeds have been grown over generations to have the qualities that home gardeners are looking for such as a long cropping season, great taste, nutritional value, plant health and disease resistance. When plants are grown in industrial systems the needs of the growers are quite different to the needs of home gardeners. Industrial systems are profit driven and require uniformity, short cropping seasons, and long shelf life. Health and disease resistance is not an issue as plants are propped up with artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Nutritional value is not a priority.
Our heritage seeds are inherently suitable for home gardeners and then Koanga continues to grow and select our plants to be suitable for home gardeners so they are disease resistant, crop over long periods, and are nutritious and flavourful.
Grown in New Zealand
All of our seeds are grown in New Zealand, mostly in the sunny Hawke’s Bay and a few lines in Northland, so they are adapted to NZ soils and climates.
Our seeds have been grown according to organic standards, although are not organically certified. This means they have not been grown using any inputs that do not meet organic standards. Although we are not certified we can provide suitable documentation for certified organic growers who grow our seeds or plants.
We strive with everything that we grow to produce healthy, nutrient dense plants in a way that not only doesn’t harm that soil, but that also regenerates it. Regenerating the soil requires that we have minerally rich soil that supports a living soil food web with healthy microbial and fungal networks. Healthy living soil is not only the best way to create healthy, nutritious food but has numerous other benefits including disease resistance, water holding capacity and the ability to sequester carbon in the soil thereby helping to mitigate against climate change.
The nutritional value of plants is influenced by two major factors – what is grown and how it is grown.
Heritage seeds retain the ability to communicate fully with the life in the soil so are generally more nutritious than modern varieties. There is lots of research to show that as varieties have been selected for industrial systems the nutritional value has decreased.
How plants are grown is the other factor and our plants are grown in soil that has high levels of balanced minerals and a healthy soil food web. This means that the needs of the plants are met and we produce high quality seed.