Growing Heirloom Vegetables
The best reason to grow heirloom vegetables is the taste. These varieties were prized for their taste and appearance, so people took the time to save the seeds. They're not commonly available in grocery stores because they weren't developed for mass production, shipping or storage.
There are thousands of heirloom varieties available for the home gardener and some have a great story behind them. Pick a couple heirlooms for your garden this year and research the story behind them.
What makes an heirloom? An heirloom is any plant that is open-pollinated and originated before 1951, before hybridization became popular. Some are hundreds of years old, others originated around the turn of the 20th century. Growing and saving heirlooms is important for maintaining bio-genetic diversity.
Mass production requires hybridized varieties that are chosen for properties like disease resistance and big yields instead of flavor. Heirlooms are perfect for home gardeners who grow several plants, instead of hundreds of acres.
The challenge of growing heirlooms is that they are not as resistant to disease, and they can be fussy about environmental conditions. The fruit can get quite big, making them more susceptible to cracking and splitting. They are indeterminate and will grow wildly, requiring pruning and staking. They're more interesting to look at: bumpy, pink, yellow and sometimes plain ugly, meaning you have to know what you're looking for come harvest time. But the taste, the taste makes them so worth the few extra minutes of tending to your garden. Choose a few heirlooms this year and maintain diversity in your own backyard.
A few of our favorites:
Bean: Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake
Tomato: Brandywine or Black Krim
Corn: Golden Bantam
Melon: Moon and Stars Watermelon
Radish: French Breakfast
Cucumber: Lemon Cucumber
Squash: Warted Hubbard Squash