Best Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit to Grow

Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit To Try

July 19, 2021
Heirloom Seeds
Baker Seed Heirloom Seeds.

Heirlooms are the unique, flavorful varieties of vegetables and fruit that have been around for at least 50 years (before commercial hybrids came along). Learn the many benefits of including heirlooms in the garden—from spring through fall—and some of our favorite varieties!

What is an Heirloom Plant?

To put it simply, it’s an old variety that predates the hybrids from the 1940s. “Heirloom” plants are the standard vegetables and flowers that folks grew for centuries before commercial hybrids came along in the 1950s through 1970s.

Hybrids were created for for better shipping, durability, disease-resistance, and marketability; however, hybrids often lack the complex taste and character of heirlooms. Fortunately, thank to a resurgence in cooking and gardening, many folks are discovering some of the original flavorful heirlooms.

All heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated as nature intended by insects, birds, or wind—not through human intervention. Sometimes heirlooms might look odd because they aren’t grown for uniform shape and size, but most heirlooms have unbeatable flavor.

Heirlooms include plants developed by seed companies and market gardeners in the past; beloved backyard mongrels that have emerged from home gardens and been carefully saved and passed along through families but that have never been in circulation as commercial varieties; and non-hybrid varieties that are coming into this country from Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and Russia.

5 Reasons to Grow Heirlooms

  1. The top reason to grow heirlooms is great flavor! Hybrids are bred mainly for supermarket durability and shipping.
  2. If you save heirloom seeds from one season to the next, they grow true to type, reliably producing the qualities of the parent. You can’t do that with most hybrid seeds which is what most grocery markets carry.
  3. Heirlooms do not only preserve distinct flavors but also shapes and color. So when you see a “weird” tomato, don’t worry! You’re just used to the uniformity of hybrids in supermarkets; heirlooms have intrinsic personalities with a variety of tastes, hues, and characteristics that make food interesting. Many heirlooms also have higher nutritional value.
  4. Heirlooms help preserve diversity in food crops so that we don’t lose valuable genetic variation we might need down the road. 
  5. History! It’s truly interesting to discover the origin stories of American heirlooms. Many are handed down by generations of gardeners and nurserymen in different regions.

Continue the tradition in your own garden.

Heirloom or Hybrid?

Do not feel as if you have to make a choice. Some gardeners will only grow heirlooms. However, many gardeners will select hybrids for disease-resistance in their climate and higher yield but also choose a few heirlooms each year to try out some different tastes and experiences.

Favorite Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit

Heirloom seeds are available from most garden nurseries and you can also order them online. We’ve featured a few heirloom seed sources below, but just Google the seed name and you’ll be sure to find additional Web sites to learn about heirloom seeds!

Note: The Days to Mature are listed in parentheses. This is an important consideration, especially for fall planting. See our Gardening Calendar for the first and last days to plant seeds in your location.

BEANS (BUSH)
‘Black Valentine’ (50) Pictured above.
‘Brittle Wax’ (50)
‘Burpee’s Stringless Green Pod’ (48)
‘Fowler’ (51)
‘Triomphe de Farcy’ (48)

BEANS (POLE)
‘Scarlet Runner’ (60)
‘Kentucky Wonder’ (65)
‘Oregon Giant Snap’ (58)
‘Potomac’ (67)

bean-cherokee-trail-of-tears-bn134-lss-dsc_5250.jpg
Credit: ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears.” Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

BEETS
‘Bull’s Blood’ (55)
‘Chioggia’ (52)
‘Early Blood Turnip’ (60)

beet-bulls-blood_full_width.jpg
Credit: Bull’s Blood Beets. Seed Savers Exchange.

BROCCOLI
‘Calabrese’ (58)
‘De Cicco’ (49)

CANTALOUPE
‘Collective Farm Woman’ (80)
‘Jenny Lind’ (70)
‘Minnesota Midget’ (60)

CARROTS
‘Danvers Half Long’ (75)
‘Red Cored Chantenay’ (65)
‘Scarlet Nantes’ (65)
‘St. Valery’ (70)
‘Touchon’ (65)

carrot-rainbow_full_width.jpg
Credit: Rainbow Blend Carrots. Eden Brothers Seeds. 

CORN
‘Ashworth’ (69)
‘Golden Bantam’ (78)
‘Utah King’ (50)

CUCUMBERS
‘Bushy’ (46)
‘Double Yield’ (55)
‘Straight Eight’ (58)
‘White Wonder’ (58)

EGGPLANT
‘Diamond’ (65)
‘Ping Tung Long’ (65)

LETTUCE
‘Black Seeded Simpson’ (55). Compact leaf lettuce.
‘Paris White Cos’ (30 to 60). Upright, thick, crisp leaves.
‘Tom Thumb’ (60).  Small green heads only 3 to 4 inches across.
‘Winter Density’ (54) Romaine that grows well in cold weather.
‘May Queen Lettuce’ (50). Delicate butterhead with soft, buttery leaves. 
‘Little Gem’ (30 to 50). Minature green romaine.
any heirloom variety

lettuce-deer-tongue-750f90bd850d4430940a546d4484dba9_full_width.jpg
Credit: Deer Tongue (Matchless) Looseleaf Lettuce. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

PEAS
‘Green Arrow’ sweet peas (68)
‘Tom Thumb’ sweet peas (50 to 55)
any heirloom variety

PEPPERS (HOT)
‘Black Hungarian’ (70)
‘Hot Lemon’ (70)
‘Hot Portugal’ (65)

PEPPERS (SWEET)
‘Bull Nose’ (58)
‘Healthy’ (70)
‘Klari Baby Cheese’ (65)

RADISHES
‘Cherry Bell’ (22) round and smooth
‘Crimpson’ (29) extra large, bright red
Easter Basket (28), colorful, small radishes!

radish-assorted-lss-000_9534.jpg
Credit: Easter Basket mix. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

SPINACH
‘Viroflay’ (50) big smooth leaves, popular for fall planting
‘Noble Giant’ (46) large dark leaves, delicate flavor
any heirloom variety

SQUASH (SUMMER)
‘Black Zucchini’ (45)
‘Nimba’ (45)
‘Yellow Crookneck’ (55)

SQUASH (WINTER)
‘Table Queen’ (60)
‘Waltham Butternut’ (85)

SWEET POTATOES
‘Carver’ (90)
‘Georgia Jet’ (90)
‘Ivis White Cream’ (90)
‘Jumbo’ (90)

heirloom-tomatoes.jpg
Credit: University of California ANR, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County

TOMATOES
‘Black Prince’ (68)
‘Black Sea Man’ (75)
‘Clear Pink Early’ (58)
‘Czech’s Bush’ (70)
‘Silvery Fir Tree’ (58)
‘Sophie’s Choice’ (55)
‘Stupice’ (55)
‘Yellow Pear’ (75)

WATERMELON
‘Moon and Stars’ (100)
‘Blacktail Mountain’ (76)
‘Cream of Saskatchewan’ (80)
‘Sweet Siberian’ (80)

Check out our video to learn more about different heirloom varieties.

Have fun growing heritage varieties that are colorful, full of flavor, and can’t be bought at the store!

Enjoy this related article about heirloom catalogs and pioneer seedswomen!

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heirloom tomatoes

If you can find them try "Goosecreek" tomatoes. It is a long season tomato but the fruit is big and meaty.

20 HEIRLOOM VEGETABLES AND FRUITS

No okra? What about Clemson Spineless? I believe it is one of the oldest and best known varieties of okra grown! If it’s not an “Heirloom” I’ll certainly be shocked!