Favorite Heirloom Vegetables to Grow | Almanac.com

Favorite Heirloom Vegetables to Grow

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Baker Seed Heirloom Seeds.

Heirloom Vegetables To Try in Your Garden

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What are heirloom vegetables and fruit versus hybrids? Heirlooms are the unique, flavorful varieties that have been around for at least 50 years. Learn the many benefits of including heirlooms in the garden—and some of our favorite varieties!

What is an Heirloom Plant?

To put it simply, an “heirloom” is an old variety of garden plants. Heirloom plants are the standard vegetables, fruits, and flowers that folks grew for centuries before commercial hybrids came along in the 1950s through 1970s.

Hybrids were created for better shipping, durability, disease resistance, and marketability; however, hybrids sometimes lack the complex taste and character of heirlooms. Fortunately, thanks 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 mixes 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, or Southeast Asia.

5 Reasons to Grow Heirlooms

  1. The top reason to grow heirlooms is great flavor! Hybrids are bred mainly for supermarket durability and shipping, not flavor.
  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 preserve distinct flavors, shapes, and colors. 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 nurseries 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 better disease resistance, climate tolerance, or higher yield, but also choose a few heirlooms each year to try out some classic tastes and experiences.

Favorite Heirloom Vegetables

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 websites to learn about heirloom seeds!

Note: The “days to maturity” are listed in parentheses. See our Gardening Calendar for the first and last days to plant seeds in your location.

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

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

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

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

beet-bulls-blood_full_width.jpgCredit: ‘Bull’s Blood’ Beets. Seed Savers Exchange.

‘Calabrese’ (58) 
‘De Cicco’ (49)

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

carrot-rainbow_full_width.jpgCredit: Rainbow Blend Carrots. Eden Brothers Seeds. 

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

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

‘Diamond’ (65) 
‘Ping Tung Long’ (65)

‘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.jpgCredit: Deer Tongue (Matchless) Looseleaf Lettuce. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

‘Green Arrow’ sweet peas (68) 
‘Tom Thumb’ sweet peas (50 to 55)

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

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

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

radish-assorted-lss-000_9534.jpgCredit: ‘Easter Basket’ mix. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

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

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

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

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

‘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)

‘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!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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