You step outside to take a walk to your home garden, the morning sun feels good on the skin. There is a sound of a morning Blue Jay and the cool dew on the grass tickles your bare toes. You have spent hot afternoons working on your garden, knowing that the work will pay off. You have composted, mulched, carefully watered and loved for your plants all season long. This is the moment of truth as you open the little white gate into your garden.
Your hard work has paid off as you see lush Indian Stripe purple tomatoes, Pfaelzer Juni beans, Japonica Striped Maize corn, and Grandpa’s Siberian Home peppers. That doesn’t sound much like your home garden does it? That is because this garden has been filled with rare and endangered vegetable seeds known as Heirloom seeds.
What Exactly Are Heirloom Seeds?
Finding an exact definition for heirloom seeds is actually rather difficult. Many people have different ideas and thoughts as to what constitutes an heirloom seed. The one general consensus among gardeners is that they must be old! While that is a general trait of heirloom seeds, there is more to it than just age.
Simply start by looking at the name – heirloom. Heirlooms are generally something that we want to save and pass down to a future generation. These particular seeds have been saved for countless generations for a variety of reasons. It may have been due to the flavor, color, or hardiness of a particular plant. In fact, there are heirlooms dating back 300 years or more! In my opinion that is a flower or vegetable that is worth trying to grow in my backyard.
Why Would I Want An Heirloom Garden?
Just as there are some many definitions as to what ah heirloom seed is so are the reasons for planting an heirloom garden. Gardeners from around the country want variations in colors and flavors, they want a physical link to their ancestors, and above all they are looking for a way to save this planet.
Like many gardeners I became bored with the plastic, waxy vegetables that may local supermarket offered up for sale in the produce section. This turned me onto the idea of home gardening like so many others believed I could save some money and live a little healthier. While it did, I was still somewhat disappointed with the taste and quality of hybrid vegetables. That was when I initially read about heirlooms on a gardening forum. I became excited as I learned about these incredible flavors and multitude of new colors that could be grown in my own backyard.
For many gardeners all it takes is the first bite out of a classic Rutgers tomato to change your mind about gardening forever! Not only is the taste and color significantly better, heirloom vegetables almost always outweigh their hybrid counterparts in nutritional value.
As a people we are always looking for a way to connect ourselves to the past. Many times this is through books, photographs, or visiting old locations. For the gardener this involves planting the same plants that may had been planted by his ancestors. In fact, there are some families that have kept the same seeds in their families for generations. This is perhaps one of the greatest ways to have your memory live on and never be forgotten!
You do not have to come from a long line of gardeners just to enjoy planting from our historical past. There are several online retailers that will allow you to purchase heirloom seeds so you can grow the same vegetables that the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had enjoyed so many years ago. This is a direct tie to the past that most of us have never been able to have by any other means.
Lastly, many gardeners are simply trying to help save our planet. You may see a lot of talk about heirloom seed around survivalist circles. The goal in gardening with heirloom seeds is to protect the biodiversity of this planet. Every year we hear about all the animals that are endangered or have become extinct, the same holds true for the plant kingdom. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has estimated that 60,000 to 100,000 plants are headed to extinction. By collecting rare seeds and handing them down to our children we are preserving our past and our planet.
Are You Ready For Your Own Heirloom Garden?
If you are new to the idea of heirloom gardening it still may be a bit of a puzzle to get started. Like any other hobby or devotion in life, we just need to jump in and get started. In order to make this jump as easy as possible, five of the easiest heirloom vegetable seeds are listed below. These are not only easy to grow but relatively easy to find. Start with one of these varieties or all five this season and see how addictive heirloom gardening can be. The four of these together will give you the most incredible garden salad you have ever had.
The Brandywine Tomato – This is perhaps one of the greatest tasting tomatoes on this planet. While that may be a rather bold claim, many others will agree with me. One bite into the pinkish flesh will have you praising its “tomatoey flavor”. Sadly, not much is really known about the early origins of the Brandywine tomato. The first recorded evidence of this plant goes way back to 1886 in a Burbee seed catalog, but it is suspected to be older than that.
Paris White Cos Lettuce – Once one of the most popular Romaine lettuces in the United States it slowly slipped into obscurity. You have the chance to create of the most appetizing and flavorful beds for your garden salad with Paris White Cos lettuce. It produces sweet crisp leaves and the ability to offer up a six-pound head if grown correctly.
Improved Long Green Cucumbers – This was one of the most popular cucumbers in the United States in the mid-1890s. It can now become one of the most popular varieties at your dinner table. With its thick vines and ability to produce cucumbers up to 20 inches long! These can be picked off the vine early and are perfect for pickling. Allowing them to sit on the vine longer will achieve excellent slicing cucumbers for slicing and putting in salads.
French Breakfast Radishes – Introduced in American in the late 1800s by French farmers it quickly became a favorite at the dinner table. Featuring an oblong shape as opposed the traditional round radish and a white tip. The French Breakfast is perfect for impatient gardeners as it only takes about a month for this tasty radish to grow to maturity.
What will be your reason for growing heirloom seeds? You don’t have to have any reason to try them. You don’t have to be trying to save the world or looking for a link to your past. In fact, if you just want some new flavors in your life, heirloom vegetables are an excellent choice. The flavors you experience will make all your hard work in the garden worth it.
About the Author
Jonathan Leger is a sponsored member of the Garden Writer’s Association and a gardening enthusiast. He runs a small site dedicated to the history, education and care of a variety of roses at CabbageRoses.net.