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Try Heirloom Plants for Your Next Vegetable Garden

Updated on February 21, 2011

In the cold and blustery or wet and windy days of winter we sometimes get disheartened and wonder if spring will ever come. Don't be discouraged, spring will be here in what seems to be the blink of an eye. The warmer weather, the birds singing, and the flowers popping up in our gardens are the signs of spring we can all look forward to. So many cold and uninviting days when I can’t get out and work in my garden, or to just chase away the winter’s chill, I love looking through seed catalogs and making plans for my next garden. The catalogs have wonderful descriptions of flowers and vegetables and enticing pictures pretty enough to make your mouth water. If you are like me and want to try something different in your garden, plant some heirloom seeds.

You’ve never heard of heirloom seeds? Well, I’ll be happy to tell you a little bit about them.

Question: What is an heirloom seed or plant?

Answer: Heirloom seeds and plants come from non-hybrid plants, and can be herbs, vegetables, or flowers. They are not genetically engineered. Many are organic, although they don’t have to be certified organic to be heirloom.

Question: Why would I want to plant heirloom seeds?

Answer: Heirloom varieties of plants are open pollinated, meaning that they have been pollinated by insects, wind, birds and other 'natural' ways. Many heirlooms are seeds that have been grown in a family or community for years, remaining true to the parent plant. If you tried to plant seed from hybrid plants you might get something that does not resemble the hybrid, reverting instead to it’s (potentially undesirable) parent, but when growing heirlooms you get consistency from year to year. This means that if you plant Lemon Cucumbers this year and save seed from it for next year, you’ll get the same Lemon Cucumbers and not a bitter or undesirable cucumber you wouldn’t want wasting space in your garden.

Some heirloom varieties have been around for over 100 years so their value as a plant has been established by being good enough to keep. This means your taste buds will be pleased, too.

Many companies that sell heirloom seed also guarantee that they have not treated the seed or sprayed them with pesticides, an important factor to many people.

Question: How do I find heirloom seeds?

Answer: There are many seed companies online that sell heirloom seeds. Three of my favorite heirloom seed sources are listed in the links section below. You will probably also be able to find heirloom seed at your local nursery, farm store, or hardware store. Check the package carefully. If it says it’s a hybrid, then it’s not an heirloom! Look for the words “heirloom” or “open pollinated.” Also ask your friends and neighbors if they have heirloom seed they would be willing to share with you.

Question: What would you recommend I start with?

Answer: I love the Cherokee Purple and Amish Paste tomatoes. The Cherokee Purples have a great taste and are wonderful sliced or on sandwiches. The Amish Paste tomato is prolific, makes wonderful sauce or salsa, and is good to freeze or can for later use.

For cucumbers try Lemon Cucumber. They have a mild flavor and don’t get bitter when they are larger. They make great pickles or sliced in a salad. I usually only grow cucumbers to make pickles, but I like these sliced in a salad or for pickles. Oh, and have I told you how prolific they are?

There are many, many heirloom seed varieties so take a look at the online catalogs or request a printed catalog so you can dream of your perfect heirloom garden for this spring.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the center. Amish paste tomatoes on the bottom. Lemon cucumber in upper right and left corners.
Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the center. Amish paste tomatoes on the bottom. Lemon cucumber in upper right and left corners. | Source
Amish paste tomatoes
Amish paste tomatoes | Source
Cherokee Purple tomatoes
Cherokee Purple tomatoes | Source
Cherokee Purple tomatoes
Cherokee Purple tomatoes | Source


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    • Tina Julich profile image

      Tina Julich 6 years ago from Pink

      Bob, I've seen more seeds shown as heirloom seeds this year than I've ever seen before. Many of the really inexpensive seeds are now showing labels on their packages as heirloom seeds. That's the beauty of them, they will reproduce true to their parents.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

      My Terra Edibles catalogue just arrived. They feature heirloom seeds.

    • Tina Julich profile image

      Tina Julich 6 years ago from Pink

      I only had two Amish Paste tomato plants in 2009 and I am still using tomatoes I froze. I think you'll like them Dirt Farmer.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Great hub. I, too, leaf through seed catalogues during the winter and dream. You've made we want to try Amish Paste this year. Thanks!

    • Tina Julich profile image

      Tina Julich 6 years ago from Pink

      You're welcome chspublish.

      Sometimes the seed packets don't give information on what 'heirloom' means, so you're not alone in not already knowing that. :-)

      If possible, join a local gardening organization. The information available will give you help with growing in your own area and also allow you and your fellow gardeners to share plants, seeds, and extra produce.

      Good luck with your heirlooms.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      Well thanks for the info and I must say I didn't quite understand what heirloom meant until now, even though I've bought some heirloom tomato seeds for this year. I thought it meant some kind of variety, which shows I didn't even read the seed packets properly. Oops. However I'm looking forward even more to what will be produced.