How to Grow An Heirloom Vegetable Garden


If you’ve never eaten an heirloom tomato fresh off the vine, then you, my friend, haven’t truly lived.

Honestly, when it comes to most vegetables in the garden, you just can’t beat the flavour of heirloom varieties. 

Buttery French heirloom pumpkins. Fresh, juicy Italian heirloom tomatoes. Sweet American heirloom corn. 

Yum, yum, and yum.

But if you’re new (or fairly new) to the gardening world, you may have heard the term “heirloom vegetables” or “heirloom seeds” before, but you might not be quite sure what an heirloom actually is, let alone how or why you should be growing them!

I honestly had never even heard of heirloom vegetables before I started really getting into gardening.

And even then, I think it was at least a year or two before I started to learn about them.

Correction: I think I had maybe heard of heirloom tomatoes before when I saw them on the menu at some upscale restaurant in the city. But I just figured it was a bougie term that chefs used to justify charging $20 for a salad.

In any case, I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable about heirloom vegetable varieties over the past few years, and while I don’t grow a 100% heirloom vegetable garden, I do include quite a few heirlooms in my garden every year, and I’m not kidding when I say they’re my favourite types of vegetables to grow.

 

Cool story. So what are heirloom vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables are strains of plants that have been grown, selected and replanted for many years and have a traceable lineage back to a certain time and place in history.

While there’s no set number of years or generations that a vegetable needs to have been grown for to make it an heirloom, the general consensus is that heirlooms are strains that have been selected and grown for at least 50 years.

There are many “younger” generations of North American heirlooms like Manitoba slicing tomatoes (1956) or Golden Bantam corn (1902). But some of my favourite heirloom vegetables are old world French and Italian heirlooms like Paris Market carrots, French Breakfast radishes, Borettana storage onions and Di Cicco broccoli. 

Swoon!

Honestly, I love these old world European heirloom vegetables for no other reason than that they all sound SOOO romantic!!! 

But I also find they have better flavour than most other kinds of vegetables we grow at home. And against grocery store vegetables, I mean, there’s just no comparison!

Plus, the variety of fruits and vegetables you get to choose from under the “heirloom” umbrella is honestly part of what makes gardening so much fun!

Pink brandywine tomatoes, Cinderella pumpkins, Glass Bead corn… You’ll NEVER find these things in most grocery stores, and you’d be hard pressed to find certain heirloom vegetables even if you were to shop your local farmers market instead! (Which you should, by the way.)

The point is, if you’re growing a garden, you need to be growing some heirloom veggies.

One of our heirloom Ardwyna Paste tomatoes from last season. These babies grow MASSIVE fruits and are fantastic for making huge vats of tomato sauce!

 

Planting and saving heirloom seeds

When it comes to choosing heirloom seeds, I’ve written and taught a bit about the different types of seeds already (I’ll link to posts and videos below), so I won’t go into comparing all of the different seed/vegetable types in this article. 

But another reason why you might want to consider heirloom seeds/plants for your garden is because you can save seeds from heirloom plants.

Since heirlooms are a “pure strain,” as far as genetics go, when you replant them and grow them again, you’ll get the same type of offspring. Just like with purebred animals.

However, if you’re planting hybrid seeds, you won’t be able to save the seeds because whatever grows will revert back to one of the parent plants or have strange traits from both and is usually not very good to eat. Sort of like a mutt.

And just like mutts, hybrid vegetables are just as loveable and worthy of a place in your home (garden), but depending on your wants and needs in the garden, you might want to consider growing heirloom seeds too:)

Again, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I highly encourage you to check out one or more of the following posts/tutorials on the different types of seeds and how to select the right ones for your garden:

 

How to grow heirloom vegetables

Most heirloom vegetables that you’ll want to grow will need to be grown from seed. Established heirloom seedlings are harder to find at nurseries, so you’ll need to start your own seeds.

For a quick reference chart on how to grow 10 different types of vegetables from seed (including heirlooms!), you can grab the free printable seed-starting cheat sheet from the Gardening section of my Free Resource Library.

Or for more info. on starting seeds, you can check out this post on 8 things to think about before starting seeds, or this one on how to build your own (easy and affordable) indoor grow light stand.

Back to heirlooms…

How to Grow An Heirloom Vegetable Garden | How to Grow Heirloom Vegetables At Home | Heirloom Gardening | Organic Gardening | Heirloom Carrots | Paris Market Carrots

Growing heirloom vegetables from seed is just like growing any other vegetables from seed. They don’t need any extra special care or attention. But you will, of course, want to make sure you’re starting with heirloom seeds in order to get true heirloom vegetables.

When selecting heirloom seeds, the first thing you want to look for on the seed packet is either the term “heirloom” or the abbreviation “OP,” which means “open-pollinated.”

Fruits and vegetables that are open-pollinated are pure and you can therefore save seeds from them (so long as they’re a self-pollinating type of vegetable like tomatoes, beans, peas, etc. Pumpkins and squash, for example, will cross-pollinate with other varieties, which makes them more difficult, but not impossible to save seeds from).

While open-pollinated seeds aren’t necessarily heirlooms (because they may not have a traceable lineage that goes back several generations the same way as heirlooms do), they are purebreds that you could easily become heirlooms because you are able to save seeds from them. 

Technically you could start your own heirloom strain from any open-pollinated seed.

If, however, the seed packet has the abbreviation “F1” on it, then they’re not heirloom seeds.

F1 stands for “first generation” seeds, and indicates that they’re hybrid seeds, which are two different varieties of plants that have been deliberately crossed by humans.

These are very different than plants that naturally cross-pollinate with each other in nature, which is why you can’t save seeds from hybrids.

Hybrids, however, are safe to eat and are NOT the same thing as GMO seeds (which you don’t really have to worry about as a home gardener), but if you want to learn more about the different types of seeds and which ones you can save, then be sure to check out this post on how to plan a seed saving garden where I break down the different types of seeds in more detail.

So to sum up, look for the words “heirloom,” “open-pollinated” or the symbol “OP.”

I guess I could have just said that from the start…

 

Best heirloom vegetables to grow at home

While it’s hard to say which heirloom vegetables are the “best” ones to grow in your home garden (because it really depends on what qualities you’re looking for), here are a few popular and/or classic heirloom varieties that are staples in many a garden, both today and in days gone by.

  • San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes (best heirloom varieties for making tomato sauce!)
  • Pink Brandywine tomatoes (extra large, “meaty” slicing tomatoes)
  • Kentucky Wonder green beans (a classic green pole bean, perfect for canning or eating fresh)
  • Chicago Pickling Cucumbers (THE go-to pickling cucumber for home gardeners for generations!)
  • Early Fortune cucumbers (great for fresh eating)
  • Danver carrots (large, orange classic carrots)
  • Calabrese broccoli (the “original” broccoli, named after the Italian town of Calabria from whence it came… Yup, I just used the word “whence” in a sentence. Can you do that?)
  • Parris Island Cos romaine lettuce (classic, crisp romaine lettuce, perfect for caesar salads on the patio!)
  • Danish Ballhead cabbage (fantastic for the fall/winter garden. Stores well all the way until late spring!)
  • Golden Bantam corn (beautiful standard yellow corn with a sweet flavour that’s great for fresh eating! 
  • Red Bull’s Horn sweet red peppers (the best sweet heirloom peppers on the planet, in my humble opinion;)
  • Sugar pumpkins (aka. pie pumpkins… These are the standard sweet, fleshy pumpkins used in most homemade pumpkin pies!)

 

Interesting and unique heirloom vegetables to try

The part of heirloom vegetable gardening that’s the by far the MOST FUN is getting to try interesting and unique strains of vegetables that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Here are a few to add to your bucket list:

  • Dragon Tongue shelling beans (these bush beans can be enjoyed whole like wax beans until the outer shell develops its signature purple streaks, at which point it becomes a shelling bean. Great option for dried beans).
  • French Breakfast radishes (long and slender radishes with red tops that taper to white bottoms, these radishes look like something out of a Beatrix Potter story!)
  • Paris Market carrots (these are a personal favourite of mine! The carrots grow in a round, ball-like shape rather than the typical long, slender carrots we’re used to. Great flavour and good producers in the garden!)
  • Chioggia beets (beautiful, candy-striped beets with alternating red and white rings).
  • Radicchio di Lusia radicchio (radicchio in and of itself is a unique vegetable to add to your garden. This Italian heirloom is light, almost lime green and speckled with red-purple spots, adding beauty to the edible garden!)
  • Glass Bead corn (arguably the most beautiful corn on the market, the kernels are a rainbow of colours and are almost transluscent, making them really look like glass beads! Makes a good popping corn).
  • Cucamelon cucumbers (aka. Mexican Sour Gherkins, cucamelons look like tiny watermelons, but taste like cucumbers with a hint of lemon. Small fruits but very productive plants!)
  • Cherokee Purple tomatoes (dark red/purple in colour and superb flavour! One of the best selling heirloom tomato varieties).
  • Black Beauty tomatoes (dubbed the “world’s darkest tomato,” these are so dark purple they’re almost black and similar in colour to blackberries).
  • Pink or Purple Bumble Bee tomatoes (red with what looks like stripes, these are a beautiful cherry tomato variety)
  • Cimmaron romaine lettuce (deep red in colour with outstanding flavour and crisp texture)
  • Murasaki Purple peppers (deep purple and small in size, these look like a hot pepper but taste more like a green pepper. The purple flowers that bloom before they set fruits are equally as beautiful in the garden!)
  • Musquée d’Hiver de Provence pumpkins (gorgeous, deeply ribbed French heirloom pumpkins that are as decorative as they are delicious!)
  • Long Island Cheese pumpkins (similar to the Musquée d’hived pumpkins, the ribs are pronounced and these pumpkins are more short and squat than large and round).
  • Queensland Blue pumpkins (blue-green in colour with sweet golden flesh)
  • Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins (aka. “Cinderella pumpkins,” this is another French heirloom that’s a beautiful red-orange in colour).
  • Galeux d’Eysines pumpkins (yet another unique French heirloom pumpkin that is more of a pastel peachy orange and appears to have warts!)

Some of our Paris Market carrots from last season. They grow in small round balls rather than the long slender carrots we’re accustomed to.

Honestly, there are SOOO many heirloom vegetables that are worthy of mention here (and worthy of a spot in your garden), but I could literally be here all day listing them off.

I recommend browsing through seed catalogues or online to check out the full variety of heirlooms available to home gardeners.

I get most of my sees from West Coast Seeds, which is based out of here in BC in the Pacific Northwest. They have a pretty good selection of heirloom seeds so they keep me pretty happy.

But if you really want to get into heirloom vegetable gardening, I highly recommend checking out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They’ve got a fantastic and wide-ranging selection of heirlooms of all types (their selection of heirloom tomato seeds can’t be beat!).

Have you ever grow heirloom vegetables before? What are your favourite varieties?

 

P.S. Want more help growing your own food at home? Download my free guide, How to Grow Your Own Food in Less Than 15 Minutes A Day and learn how to grow an organic grocery store in your backyard even if you’re limited on time!

 

Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness:)

 

 

 


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2 Comments

  1. Lexie

    What is the optimum temperature for sprouting seeds?

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Hi Lexie,

      This will all depend on the type of seeds you’re trying to sprout. So, for example, tomato seeds will need warmer soil than peas. And each vegetable variety tends to have its own optimum temperature to germinate. However in general, most seeds will germinate at between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 18 to 30 degrees Celsius).

      Reply

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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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Call me #basic, but it’s the truth.

In fact, I’m all about everything fall: the colours, the coziness, the sweater weather, and yes, pumpkins and pumpkin spice. There’s just something comforting and nostalgic about it; Like grandma’s kitchen or the warm scent of pumpkin pie that wafts from the table at holiday dinners with family and friends.

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As much as I'm honestly kinda over the garden by this time of year and ready to tuck in indoors and rest for a while, I know that the effort I put into my garden in the fall will pay a huge return come next spring and summer when we're ready to plant and then harvest our next round of crops.

For one, fall is the best time to amend and enrich your soil, so adding compost or manure or some sort of organic matter is pretty crucial this time of year.

Also, you should always cover your soil, especially over the winter months when soil is more likely to erode and nutrients can get washed away. A cover crop or a thick layer of mulch is a good idea to help keep your soil protected and intact.

And of course, garlic should be planted in the fall before your first frost to ensure huge bulbs next summer. Us homesteaders always have to be thinking ahead a few seasons!

I'm taking you into our garden as we're tearing it down and planting out our garlic. I'll show you our fall gardening routine and I'll walk you through planting garlic so you can start growing it at home too! (It's honesty the easiest, most rewarding crop that we grow).

It's time for the grand finale in the garden this year as we tear it down and prep it for next spring. Will you join me for one last hurrah?

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First batch of homemade candles for the season. It’s a cold, grey day and we’re about to light the woodstove for the first time this season too. Now I have some homemade spice-scented candles to go with the cozy vibe:)

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Sometimes I question why I do what I do. Why do I take on so much? Why do I bother making everything from scratch and growing a garden and preserving food when I could just as well buy it from the store and save myself a ton of time and effort?⁣⁣⁣
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Why am I working hard to build a business out of my passion when I could just as easily go to work for a pay check and just enjoy homesteading as a hobby on the side?⁣⁣⁣
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Why do I choose to do everything the hard way and see against the grain? Why not just go with the flow and hope for the best?⁣⁣⁣
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I can’t say for sure that I would have chosen to follow all the same paths that I’ve gone down over the past few years had I not become a mother, but what I 𝘥𝘰 know for sure is that my beautiful daughter is worth every ounce of hard work; every dollar I’ve invested in our future goals and dreams; every late night work fest and canning session; every seed planted and loaf of bread baked.⁣

She’s worth it because I want to give her the best I can in life. I want her to eat good food and live a long and healthy life. I want to teach her how to be self-sufficient so that she has the skills she needs no matter what kind of world awaits her in the future. And I want to show her that anything is possible and any dream is worth pursuing, even if the work that it takes to achieve it is harder than following the herd and taking the road of least resistance.⁣⁣⁣
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This little human right here: this is my why. This girl and her goofy smile make everything worthwhile ❤️⁣⁣⁣
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What (or who?) is your why?
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This growing season has seriously been the strangest I’ve experienced so far. Summer came so late we thought it wasn’t gonna come at all. Our greens and peas and spring crops produced for weeks longer then they normally do as we waited FOREVER for our tomatoes and peppers and summer crops to grow and ripen.

Now that we’re into October, we’re having a warm spell and the garden is acting like it’s summer! The tomatoes are all just starting to turn red, the cucumbers and zucchini are still givin’er, the pumpkins and squash are having another growth spurt, and now the green beans are starting on round two after about a month of dormancy!

We’re supposed to be going fishing tomorrow, and I’m wondering if the salmon are a little late this year too...

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I love making plans for the future, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without some pretty serious planning. But sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow and trust that even when things don’t work out exactly as you’d imagined, they work out exactly as they should.

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What are you feeling grateful for this year? It’s Thanksgiving next weekend here in Canada, so we’ll be talking a lot about gratefulness this week in our house 🙏
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Can you imagine how bland and boring our food (and life) would be without spices??⁣

Seriously! We take them for granted nowadays because they’re so readily available in our pantries and on grocery store shelves. But for thousands of years throughout history, spices were coveted, revered and hard to get. For around 1,500 years, spices travelled overland on camelback and horseback on the Silk Road from China to the west. And then, just over 500 years ago, explorers set out into the unknown to find a maritime trading route, and one of those explorers just so happened to stumble on the Americas along the way, essentially shaping history and the modern world as we know it. ⁣

But besides history and geography, the science behind spices is just as fascinating. Their culinary and medicinal uses have had a huge impact on the world and on the dishes we enjoy on a regular basis today. Oh, and did you know that, scientifically speaking, it’s actually possible to GROW even the most “exotic” spices at home, right here in North America??⁣

I LOVE to geek out on this sort of stuff, so doing the research for the latest issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine was actually so much fun. (If you hadn’t guessed, this issue is all about spices!!)⁣

I’d love to tell you so much more right here, but I’m a bit limited on space! However, you can read more about the fascinating story of spices, their culinary and medicinal uses, how to put them to use in your kitchen and yes, even how to grow them at home in the October issue.⁣

So if you’re already subscribed, be sure to check your inbox for the latest issue (it came out yesterday). And if you’re NOT yet subscribed, then head on over and click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead to subscribe for FREE, and get the latest issue delivered straight to your inbox!⁣

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In the garden, some plants are dead or dying. There’s brown, crispy stems, dried pea pods bursting with next year’s seeds and a natural layer of mulch in the form of fallen leaves. But at the same time there’s still so much life. So much greenery and colour. So much of summer still left.⁣

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But this year our return to our “normal” fall routines is anything but. For many families, there is no return to school. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Instead, more families than ever before have found themselves educating their children at home for the first time, whether by force or by choice. And trying to balance all of the usual September tasks with navigating full-time homeschooling can feel daunting, to say the least.⁣

I know we can all use as much help and expert advice as we can get at this time, so I’m honoured to have Ginny Aaron, a full-time homeschooling, homesteading mom of three sharing her wisdom on the blog this week. She’s generously shared her best tips for incorporating homeschooling with your existing routine and finding the teachable moments in the every day so that you don’t need to uproot your life or find another 7 hours in your day to recreate a classroom environment at home.⁣

I just love Ginny’s approach to homeschooling and if you’re anything like me, I think you will too. You can check out her full post by clicking the link in my bio or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/homeschooling-on-the-homestead/

It’s also Ginny's first time guest posting so be sure to leave a comment while you’re there and let us know what school looks like for your family this year.⁣

Link in bio @thehouseandhomestead
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I’ve been feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders lately. Between balancing work and the garden and all of the canning and preserving tasks this time of year, I’ve already got enough on my plate. Add a string of social commitments, back-to-school and extracurricular activities, and I’m definitely feeling the pressure, as I usually do this time of year.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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But lump on a pandemic, worsening political tensions, division and civil unrest, intensifying environmental disasters (we’re currently socked in with smoke from the California wildfires), and it all just becomes too much to bear some days.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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I know I’m far from the only one who’s feeling this way. And yet, we all have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going even when we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed and burnt out. Even when the present is frightening and the future is uncertain.⁣

I’ve developed some strategies over the past few years that have helped me keep moving forward and get things done even when I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, and I want to share them with others who need help coping with stress and overwhelm right now too.⁣⁣
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You can check out my list of 10 tips for managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead (and in life!) by clicking the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead and then clicking the link to the full blog post at the top.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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You can also grab my free time management planner by clicking the link in my bio and then clicking on “Free Resource Library,” (find it under “Homesteading & Self-Sufficiency Resources” in the library).⁣⁣⁣
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No matter what you’re struggling with right now, I hope some of these tips help keep you navigate these extra stressful times and stay focused and moving forward with your to-do list, as well as with your big goals and dreams. But most of all, I hope it reminds you that if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed right now, you’re not alone.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Link in bio @thehouseandhomestead to read more.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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I don’t think I have a jar big enough for this pickling cucumber 🥒 ⁣

What do you do with the huge pickling cukes that inevitably get missed in the garden??⁣

Please leave suggestions below! I’ve got two of ‘em! 😂
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Late summer is truly the time of abundance (and by far the busiest time of year for us).⁣⁣⁣
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We’ve got so much food that’s ripe for the picking in our own garden, plus baskets full of produce that we purchase locally when it’s in season and preserve for the winter.⁣⁣⁣
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Between harvesting and preserving (and trying my best to document it all for you along the way), there’s little time for much else in August.⁣⁣⁣
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We’re busy sweating in the garden and the kitchen, working around the clock to preserve all of the fruits (and vegetables) of summer so that come winter we hunker down and relax knowing we’ve got a pantry full of food to sustain us.⁣⁣⁣
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While there have been more times than I like to admit when I’ve asked myself why we do this when we could be at the beach or floating down the river like everyone else, come winter I am ALWAYS grateful for the time and energy we invested in the spring, summer and fall to grow and preserve all of the food that lines our pantry shelves.⁣⁣⁣
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With everything that 2020 has brought so far (and more uncertainty to come), this year I’m feeling grateful even in the thick of it; Even while I’m sweating and pulling late night canning sessions and constantly scraping dirt out from under my nails. This year it’s more apparent than ever how much growing and preserving our own food is worth the time and effort that it takes.⁣⁣⁣
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If you feel the same way and you’re looking to get even better at gardening, preserving and homesteading in general, or maybe you’re finally ready to start living a more sustainable lifestyle where YOU have control over your food supply, I highly encourage you to check out the Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle (link in bio @thehouseandhomestead). It’s packed with almost $600 worth of resources designed to help you take control of your food security and live a more self-sufficient life, and it’s on sale today only for just $19.99!⁣

If you ask me, we would all be wise to invest in our own food security as we head into fall and winter 2020, so click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead to grab your bundle now. The sale ends tonight at midnight so don’t wait!!
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