What are heirloom seeds?
Very simply, heirloom seeds conform to a few loose "ideals":
- They are open-pollinated.
- They do not have any plant breeder's rights attached to them.
- The variety is generally older than 1950.
- They have a history of being passed down from year to year with the seed being saved each year.
Do you supply seedlings of your heirloom seeds?
Livingseeds is a specialist seed house and as such, we only supply seed. Our focus is on growing and supplying the best quality seed. As we grow the seed ourselves, we are unable at this point to grow out seedlings.
What is the mission of Livingseeds.co.za?
Our "mission," if you'd like to call it that, is to provide heirloom and open-pollinated seed to private gardeners and small-scale market gardeners. Seed that can be harvested and kept from year to year without the need to buy specialist seed from large corporations every season.
In addition, we would like to see people become more self-sufficient and take back the ability to produce their own food. Livingseeds.co.za, together with our sister site SelfSustainable.co.za, is a way that we can assist in doing this.
Where does Livingseeds.co.za get their seeds from?
We are proud to say that Livingseeds is one of the few seed houses in South Africa that produces almost all (over 95%) of our seed on our property. A few lines are specially grown for us by a handful of other seed houses and are only offered via our site. This ensures that you are receiving seed that has been grown in local conditions, not seed that has been imported and may be subject to a restricted or experimental status.
We currently have well over 200 seed varieties in our repository and are expanding our catalogue on a monthly basis. Most new seed is released after about 2-3 years of work. This includes the initial planting, seed saving, a grow-out trial, and final in-house germination testing.
Where can I get a hardcopy catalogue?
We, unfortunately, do not offer a printable catalogue, and for one specific reason.
Our seeds are locally grown and as such we do not have large quantities of seed available, as we go out of stock on certain varieties quite often. (We can either grow a lot of seed of a few kinds, or a small yet regular supply of many varieties. We opted for the more exciting larger range.)
In the past when people had access to a hardcopy catalogue, they would mail us an order and deposit money only to find that we were out of stock of certain items. This led to frustration and unhappy customers. We now only have an online catalogue (our website) that we endeavour to keep as up-to-date as possible.
On the plus side, as we grow fresh seed every year, items come back in stock with the current year's seed, giving us some of the best germination rates in the country.
How does your seed count work?
The focus of Livingseeds is to supply seed that can be planted, the fruit harvested for consumption, and seed saved from this fruit for the next years planting. This is the whole purpose behind heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.
We generally supply enough seed that, if based on a modest 80% germination rate, most families (i.e. 2.1 kids, a dog, and a hamster) will be able to use or process all of the fruits in a single season. Then all you need to do is take the seed out of a single fruit (the best looking, of course) for the following season and you can plant as many as you wish – at no cost to you for the rest of your life. That, we think, is a bargain.
The stated seed counts on the site and packaging are the minimum quantity. Typically, you will find between 10% and 50% more seed in each packet.
Furthermore, certain varieties require a minimum population to maintain their genetic diversity. Corn (mielies) is a very good example: 40–80 plants are required to ensure that the genetic diversity is carried over from year to year. We supply enough seed for you to maintain this genetic diversity within your own planting. Any less and we would be doing you a disservice and it would not be in keeping with the spirit of heirloom and open-pollinated seed.
I see white powder in my bean seed packet. Are you treating the seed with chemicals?
In short, yes, we do treat our seeds, and at the same time, no, we do NOT use chemicals.
Due to the way that we produce our seeds, we have two forms of seed treatment. The first is freezing (between 3 and 10 days) and the second is with diatomaceous earth (DE). Originally, we only froze the seed and then packed it for sale. We have found, however, that it was not 100% perfect and the occasional bug did manage to survive the freezer. It's a bit disconcerting when a client phones and complains about weevils in their seed!
Over the last two years, we have been experimenting with DE on deliberately infected seed samples (i.e. 100 seeds and 10 introduced weevils) and have found a >99% success rate. This is fantastic for us as we are assured of not having to use chemicals to prevent insect infestations in our seed.
Since 2011, most of our susceptible seed has DE added. In addition, the seed will be correctly frozen prior to DE treatment to make every effort to supply you with clean, insect-free, chemically untreated, viable seed.
I have an heirloom variety I’d like to sell to or trade with you. Are you willing to buy/trade?
This is an interesting question and it is open to discussion on a case-by-case basis. Most of the seed we have has been given to us as a direct gift in the tradition that heirloom seeds have come to represent. We encourage you to share your seeds with friends and family. They make a perfect Christmas or birthday gift – one that keeps on giving!
If you have a particularly unique seed and feel that a trade is required for you to share your seed, by all means, pop us an email or call us and we can discuss it.
Do you allow visits to your farm?
Please understand that the nature of our business at this point does not afford us the luxury of visitors. We are a working farm that not only produces seed for this site, but we are also a fully functional farm that feeds our family on a sustainable basis. We do not have the staff, infrastructure, or time at this point to accommodate visitors. We are hoping in the near future to be able to open our property to day visitors on selected days.
How do you post/ship your seed?
Please see our Shipping Information page.
Do you ship outside South Africa?
Unfortunately, we no longer ship outside of our borders. Our percentage of missing international parcels exceeds 20%, which for us is unacceptable. We suggest enlisting the help of a local friend to order for you and ship onwards, or collecting seed on a visit to South Africa.
If you have any questions that you feel should be in this FAQ section, please don't hesitate to contact us and we will be glad to add the question (and answer) to this list.