Heirloom Vegetables for Beginners

A vegetable garden is just a vegetable garden, right?  For some that may be true, but others that are digging a little deeper know that there is more. There are heirlooms, GMOs, and Hybrids that can be planted in your garden. Heirloom Vegetables and Seeds are what you will be reading about today.

Terms to Know

  • GMO Seeds – These are genetically modified in a lab, to produce specific characteristics like herbicide resistance.
  • Hybrid Seeds – Are not genetically modified but are the result of cross pollination between two varieties within a species. Hybrid seeds sold in stores are usually pollinated by a person to combine certain traits within a species. There is such thing as a natural hybrid when two varieties are planted close to one another and pollination occurs through natural means. The resulting seeds will never be true-to-type.
  • Cross – Pollination – when pollen is taken from one variety of plant to another variety within the same species to develop a new variety with traits from both parent plants.
  • Open – Pollination – When plants are pollinated by nature means, through birds, insects, or other natural ways within its environment.
  • True – to – type – When two of the same plants are pollinated the resulting seed will produce the same characteristics of the parent plant.  EX: Tomato A  X Tomato A = Tomato A Seeds
Purple Carrots | Heirloom Vegetables

What is an Heirloom?

First what exactly do people mean when they say heirloom when referring to a garden.

When people say heirloom, most think of “family heirlooms” or objects that have been passed down from generation to generation. When a vegetable is referred to as an heirloom it means the seeds have been passed down over generations over the course of 50 years or more.

Heirloom seeds are not genetically altered like GMOs or cross pollinated with other varieties like hybrids.  They are “open – pollinated” or pollinated by natural means like honeybees or birds.  When heirlooms produce seeds, they can be saved and planted the next year. The seeds that are collected will result in true – to – type vegetables when planted the next year.    

Example: Heirloom Species Tomato A x Heirloom Species Tomato A = Heirloom Tomato Species A

Are Heirlooms Vegetables Harder to Grow?

Heirloom vegetable gardening can be a lot of work with little return, depending on conditions. Heirloom Seeds have not been altered over the years to withstand diseases or climate changes like hybrids and GMOs. You get what you get when choosing heirlooms.  This may make them more difficult to grow for a brand new gardener.

With every vegetable you plant, you will need to consider your zone and the type of environment you will have your garden in. When planting heirlooms it is also true, you will need to be sure that you are buying seeds that will do well where you are. For example, do not go buy an heirloom variety that is for southern warmer climates knowing that you live in the north where the temperature can drop quickly.

If you plan on growing heirloom vegetables, researching what vegetables do well in your area and reading the planting instructions will make growing them much easier.

Organic Carrots | Heirloom Vegetables

Heirloom Does Not Mean Organic

There are a lot of people that think heirloom automatically means that the produce is organic, this is not the case. A vegetable being an heirloom is the type of seeds you plant, while being organic is how someone chooses to grow them.

For example: A gardener that chooses to grow heirlooms without commercial pesticide, herbicides and follows the organic growing guidelines would then produce organic heirloom vegetables and seeds. Commercial farms that are not using organic methods usually do not produce heirloom vegetables because they do not hold up well with diseases and different chemicals they might use.

Reasons to Grow Heirloom Vegetables

For the at home gardener heirlooms can provide many benefits and reasons that someone would like to add them to their garden.

Reasons Why

  1. Heirlooms provide many colorful unique Choices. My 6-year-old likes to try out different varieties of heirloom tomatoes each year. This year it is Red Zebra tomatoes, these are red with yellow stripes.
  2. Traditional heirlooms are said to have a better taste.
  3. Saving Seeds for Years to come
  4. Each seed has a story, a “history.”
  5. Plant to help Preserve Heirlooms. Be a part of something bigger.
  6. Less expensive overtime

I chose to grow heirlooms because of the many benefits, but I was also interested in the history attached to each seed.  The idea of helping preserve a small piece of history was inspiring.

Beginner Friendly Heirloom Vegetables

There are so many different vegetables to try, the ones that we have found easy to grow include

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots
  • Green Beans
  • Zucchini
  • Peas
  • Pumpkins
  • Butternut Squash
  • Radishes
Growing Heirloom Vegetables | Tomato Vines

Planting Heirloom Vegetables

If planting heirlooms in your garden has now become a part of your dream, then you need to know that you will probably have to start off with seeds, I have only ever been able to find a select number of transplants and those were shipped from Seed Savers Exchange. Most of the seeds you plant will be directly sowed in your garden if you would like to try the famous heirloom tomatoes you will need to be able to start the seeds inside.

When growing heirlooms, you also need to know that the plant size and your harvest amount can vary. We have grown tomato plants that have been six feet tall and only produced a handful of tomatoes. Last year we tried Green Zebra Tomatoes, the plants were four foot tall, and the tomatoes seemed to be endless.

Read the description before purchasing so you will be aware of what your plants could end up like. The first year I decided to try cornfield pumpkins without reading everything through. At the end of the season there were vines and pumpkins everywhere in the garden.

Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds

Many people sell heirlooms seeds online but be careful when you are making your purchase. Some seeds maybe not be true heirlooms or true – to – type seeds. When buying you should use a reputable heirloom seller that can give you the seeds information, listed are a few that I have used.

Are Heirlooms Right For You?

Growing Heirlooms can be difficult, but it if you are up to the challenge the benefits really are great. There are so many different unique vegetables for you to try, each with its own story to share with you. If this is something that you are interested in, be sure that you know which vegetables will be right for your garden.

Heirloom Vegetables for Beginners

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