Best Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit to Grow

Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit To Try

April 13, 2021
Heirloom Tomatoes

Try growing beautiful, authentic American Heirloom vegetables and fruit!  What is an heirloom? To put it simply, it’s an old variety that predates the hybrids from the 1940s. Learn more about why we grow heirlooms—plus the most flavorful heirloom varieties to try!

“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 yield, disease-resistance, shipping, 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.

Why Grow Heirlooms?

  • Heirlooms have endured because people cared enough about their distinct flavors, colors, shapes which can’t be found in supermarkets. 
  • Unlike hybrids which are bred to grow anywhere, ripen uniformly, ship well, and keep longer, heirlooms have maintained their intrinsic personality.
  • If you save heirloom seeds from one season to the next, they reliably produce the qualities of the parent. With hybrids, you never know and can’t replicate the parent.
  • Heirlooms help preserve diversity in food crops so that we don’t lose valuable genetic variation we might need down the road. 
  • History! It’s interesting to discover the origin stories of 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.

20 Heirloom Vegetables and Fruit

(Days to maturity are listed in parentheses.)

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

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

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

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)

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
any heirloom variety

PEAS
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
any heirloom variety

SPINACH
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)

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
‘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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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!