Get a taste of the past by growing heirloom varieties of your favorite vegetables in your garden. Heirloom varieties often differ from their more common modern counterparts in terms of taste, size, and color. They produce their crops through open pollination, making each generation perfectly consistent with the last. In other words, you pretty much know what you’re going to see and taste.
Why Grow Heirlooms?
People grow heirlooms for many reasons. Here are just a few of the most common ones.
Create a richer culinary experience in the kitchen! Heirlooms tend to have a richer flavor and higher nutritional content than their modern counterparts. In fact, taste is often bred out of the modern versions to give them longer shelf lives, or to improve their resistance to pests and diseases. Grow heirloom varieties if you're looking for a more full-bodied tasting experience.
Growing heirlooms allows you to save money every year. Once you’re able to harvest, set some of the seeds aside so you can grow them again next year. Since they’re already used to your local soil and planting zone, they should have no problem building up a resistance to the pests and diseases that are common in your area. What’s even better? You’ll be preserving a piece of the past by keeping the variety alive for another generation of enjoyment.
Heirlooms tend to come in colors, sizes, and varieties you don’t often see in the produce section of your local supermarket. Growing them in your garden not only boosts the visual appeal of your plants, but it also makes the dishes you make with them all the more interesting.
Recapture some of the magic of your grandparents’ garden. Many people cherish the memories of biting into a juicy tomato from the vine or crunching on a carrot fresh from the garden. Growing heirlooms will help you recapture that magical moment and connect you with your past.
Tips for Growing Heirlooms
Grow a Large Number of Them
The more plants you grow, the stronger and healthier they will all be, especially if you plan to save the seeds for future plantings. Save seeds from the strongest plants to help ensure healthy harvests in the future.
Test Your Soil Ahead of Time
This will tell you what your soil is missing so you can add it in yourself. If it’s too late in the season for that, be sure to add organic materials like compost and manure to the soil to give your seeds and plants a great start. If you’re using manure, make sure it’s finished decomposing before applying it. Otherwise, it may contain too much nitrogen, which can hurt plants.
Include a Few Companion Plants
Companion planting helps keep pests away and may enhance the growth and flavor of the heirloom varieties you grow. Most herbs, as well as flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds, have been known to keep pests away.
You know your soil is fantastic when you dig into it and see earthworms roaming around. If your soil is a little light on worms, consider taking matters into your own hands and buying a few. The worms will till the soil for you and add nutrients to it.
Keep Weeds at Bay
It’s tough for plants to thrive when vigilant weeds can easily outgrow them. Pull weeds when you see them to give your plants a fighting chance and prevent them from stealing nutrients. Add newspaper between rows, or place it around your planting area. Add a spritz of water and some mulch over it to prevent it from blowing away, and presto! You've got yourself a decent weed barrier.
Save water by installing drip irrigation in your garden. Then, create a watering schedule to ensure that your plants are getting the water they need when they need it. Keep in mind that some plants, such as tomatoes, may need to be watered more often than others.
Save Your Seeds for Next Year
Continue growing heirlooms each year by saving your seeds. Saving seeds allows you to save money each year by growing the varieties you love that also tend to do well in your growing zone.
Tomato, cucumber, and squash seeds are easy to save. Select seeds from your healthiest plants, and spray them with water. Then, let them dry on a paper towel. To save seeds from beans or peas, let the whole pod dry out, removing the seeds only when the pod has dried completely.
If you’d like to get started, go to your local plant nursery and ask if they have any heirloom seeds or starts for sale. Companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds carry a variety of heirlooms. Do your research, and add a few new varieties of your favorite or most-used vegetables to your garden. Since we’re heading into the fall months soon, consider adding heirloom garlic bulbs, leeks, and onions to your garden, which you’ll be able to harvest and enjoy in no time at all.