Growing Heirloom Vegetables in the Home Garden
What Are Heirloom Vegetables?
Put simply, heirloom vegetables are the types of vegetables that our ancestors grew in their home gardens for centuries. During those centuries the vegetables, and fruits for that matter, adapted to their environments becoming drought resistant in dry, hot areas, and cold hardy in northern climes. Since our grandparents saved the best seed from the best plants the plants improved over time and became even hardier and more adapted to the local habitat.
Heirloom refers to any plant that was grown before the 1950s. After that time farming was more and more a commercial venture and the investors wanted more and more produce, not necessarily better produce. Hybrids became the new standard, mixtures of two varieties that created a product that ripened early and traveled well, never mind about the taste. From there food producers began to experiment with genetics in plants, changing certain aspects to make the plant more colorful, or have more omega-3, or even just to be bigger. Genetically modified plants don't have to be labeled genetically modified, so most people have no idea that they are eating something that has been, for all intents and purposes, tampered with.
Why Heirloom Plants?
Heirloom plants are open pollinated and recreate themselves by seed. Hybrid plants must be started by cuttings, the seeds are infertile. This in and of itself is a problem because it is much more efficient to grow plants from seeds you have saved yourself. You can choose which plants produced the best, which had the best taste, and then these are the plants you let go to seed at the end of the season to collect the seeds. With hybrids you must buy new seeds every year, making you a slave to consumerism.
Heirloom tomatoes taste like tomatoes. Do you remember that taste? Surely the entire flavor of summer is encased in a sun ripened Brandywine or Russian Black tomato! The flavors of heirloom vegetables and fruits are intense, not watered down like the commercial, hybrid varieties available in today's market.
Heirloom fruit and vegetables are also hardier. Some were grown in dry climates, some in hot climates, some in short growing seasons. The plants adapted and strengthened and so are very hardy in the habitat they were originally grown in. Check with your country agent, or read carefully the catalogs to see which plants are best suited for your area.
Some Interesting Heirloom Varieties
Heirlooms come in many varieties. There are numerous unusual colors, patterns, shapes, and flavors. With these fabulous plants you don't have to settle for mediocre flavors in your food but can experience many different flavors within the same type of vegetable.
Look at the rainbow of colors in the above picture. Who would have ever considered that carrots could be purple? Imagine a carrot side dish with a mixture of heirloom carrots.
Some interesting heirloom varieties are:
Black Valentine Bush Beans-1850. Dark green, string-less, and 6 inches long. Very tender and flavorful
FIN de BAGNOL - 1800's. - The round pods are picked when young and tender. Excellent for mini-gourmet veggies.
LEMON CUCUMBER-1894 - The lemon shaped cucumbers are pale yellow with white flesh.
WHITE WONDER -1893 - matures to a white color, which makes them easier to spot at harvest
BENNINGS GREEN TINT SCALLOP -1914- pale green, patty-pan type has scalloped edges
WHITE PATTY PAN -This variety was used by the North American Indian tribes before the European settlers arrived!
ANANAS REINETTE Netherlands 1821 - intense sweet, sharp flavor, developing a pineapple flavor late in the season
JEFFERIS-Pennsylvania 1830-rich, pear-like flavor
There are many more varieties of heirloom fruit and vegetables, way too many to list here. A leisurely browse through some of the links provided below will provide thousands of interesting varieties and plants. In choosing consider carefully your needs. What is your climate? What do you want to accomplish? What is your soil like? Choose plants with an eye to what their strengths are for a successful gardening experience.
Heirloom varieties can add beauty and taste to your table...but they can also be a profitable crop for the homesteader.
Heirloom Vegetables Are Designer Vegetables
Heirloom vegetables are becoming more and more popular as consumers recognize that what they are buying at the grocery might be affordable but is lacking in quality. The renewed interest in organics and concerns about the environment also are spurring on a campaign ot buy locally.
Not everyone can have a garden Some people don't have the time, some don't have the interest, and some don't have the land. Those who have the ability to grow heirloom vegetables can find it a profitable venture in a niche market. Small grocers, restaurant owners, and personal chefs are good people to approach with small amounts of good quality, organic vegetables. Some towns have farmers markets, or allow roadside stands which are also excellent ways to sell the food you grow. Consider putting an ad on a local Internet list, like craigslist.com. Heirloom vegetables are sought after and marketable additions to your garden.