Heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars. Meaning that a particular cultivar can be grown from seed and will come back “true to type” if not cross pollinated. The next generation will look just like its parent. Heirloom vegetables are those introduced before 1951, when modern plant breeders introduced the first hybrids, but many date from the 1920’s and earlier. Many are 100-150 years old, and some are much much older. Hybrids, sometimes labeled as F-1, will not come back true if the seed is saved. Sometimes the seed can be sterile and not sprout at all, but if it does sprout, the young plants will probably not have many of the characteristics that made its parent noteworthy and who knows what you will get. Hybrids do have some outstanding qualities such as disease resistance, but reproducing themselves is clearly not one of them.
Every year I try several new varieties of heirlooms. I always keep record of varieties that have produced well and the ones I probably won’t try again. Some varieties may or may not be suited for your area and some my be susceptible to problems unknown to earlier gardeners. Trial and error. Of course that is gardening, isn’t it? That’s how we learn. Ask other gardeners which variety has done well for them or just try a few new ones each year. In our area there are few heirloom tomatoes that produce remarkably well due to our long hot summers, but I can’t imagine not having heirloom tomatoes in my garden! Don’t plant all one variety. Try a few new ones and plant some of the old standbys just in case. Try other heirloom vegetables beyond the tomato. For the first time this year I am trying the ‘Rutgers’ tomato, a common heirloom. So far it has produced more tomatoes on it than any of my other tomatoes bushes. I wish I would have planted more! I tried a new cabbage last year, ‘Cour Di Bue’. Without a doubt I have missed out over the years on this strange shaped, but yet beautiful large cabbage with a point on top and it has a fabulous flavor to. I had to create a new growing area for a pumpkin patch with heirlooms like ‘Thai Small, Turner Family, Shamrock, Survivor and Speckled Hound’.
Protecting our seeds is now more important than ever with the commercial agriculture market with genetically engineered (GMO) seeds. Support seed companies that take pride in preserving our seed heritage. Learn to preserve your own seeds for the future! Grow Heirlooms!