Surely you’ve heard the saying “What is old is new again.” In today’s society that seems to be a way of life. We are seeing remakes of old movies, fashions from our youth are fashionable once more and even our favorite childhood toys and games are being resurrected for the younger set of today. Even in the world of vegetable gardening there has been a resurgence of growing the vegetables that our parents and grandparents grew. Heritage or heirloom vegetables are being found in more and more backyard gardens, grocery stores, and even restaurants.
Vegetables are considered an heirloom variety if they satisfy a couple of requirements;
- It must be a plant that has been passed down within a family or has been grown for more than 50 years.
- It must also be able to be grown from its own seed. In other words, it isn’t a hybrid.
Surprisingly, there are plenty of heirloom vegetable plants to choose from. Tomatoes, peppers, green beans and squash are just a few that are available in heirloom varieties.
Gardeners plant heirloom vegetables for a variety of reasons. Taste is a big reason. Most people say that heirloom vegetables are much more flavorful that the popular hybrids of today. The taste of the not so pretty heritage tomatoes is unsurpassed by today’s perfectly pretty grocery store variety. Most people are willing to put taste before looks.
Gardeners are preserving the genetic diversity of the vegetable by planting heirlooms. This would have been lost when growers started selecting for shipping ability rather than taste. By preserving the genetic diversity they are essentially preserving the vegetable. Relying on just a few varieties can lead to catastrophic losses of a vegetable. The Great Potato Famine of Ireland happened because they relied on only a few varieties of potatoes. One blight wiped out all of the potatoes. Preserving genetic diversity is in essence preserving our food sources.
A gardener that plants heirloom vegetables is always ensure of free seed for next years crop. In essence, the plants pay for themselves year after year after year. Once a gardener has a vegetable, they will be ensured of future crops just by saving some seeds. They can also share and swap their seeds with their fellow gardeners. There are many different seed saving organizations that gardeners can join so they can swap seed or find seeds for a plant they are looking for.
Heirloom plants are what’s new again. More and more seed catalogs are carrying heirloom seeds and plants. Pretty soon we may wonder why we opted for those pretty tomatoes when the ugly ones taste so much better.