Did you know that ‘heritage’ or ‘heirlooms’ are varieties of plants that have been grown without crossbreeding for 40 or more years? These plants are phenomenal to grow in the garden because these varieties often have deeper and more unique flavours than the ones found in conventional grocery stores!
We should note that there are hybrid seeds that have been commercially available for over 50 years, but these hybrid seeds cannot be collected and saved in the same reliable way as open pollinated seeds. When hybrid seeds are harvested and replanted, they tend not to come true to the parent variety.
What are heirloom vegetables? They are open pollinated plants, the seeds of these plants can be harvested and planted each season to have the same variety each year, just select seeds from your strongest and healthiest plants. Open pollination creates a more genetically diverse gene pool which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions. They have passed the ultimate quality test with their exceptional taste and flavour. By planting heirlooms you are contributing to these vegetables continuing to be available in the community around us.
Tomatoes and apples are two popular heirloom plants that have a long history to them. Tomatoes originated in Mexico with the seeds that were brought to Spain by early explorers and spread to Italy where it became incorporated into regional cuisine. Apples originated in Kazakhstan in Central Asia east of the Caspian sea and eventually were carried and spread throughout Europe. They both have been tested in many different environments around the world, continuing to increase their popularity. Heirloom apples are especially useful because they are naturally disease resistant- their genetic diversity will help prevent apples from succumbing to widespread diseases, and the additional variety also fosters biodiversity and provides trees that grow best in the region.
The exceptional taste and flavour heirlooms have are the reason gardeners and farmers love to replant the seeds every year. Along with providing a vast number of nutrients and vitamins within the heirlooms. They are super rewarding to grow, connecting us to the past while preserving biodiversity.
Heirloom plants are treasures to have in both vegetable gardens and landscaping. Their long histories and cultural value speak for themselves and should be a welcome addition to any garden.