6 Heirloom Vegetable Advantages

Heirloom vegetables deliver diverse colors, bright flavors, rich nutrition and fascinating history. Plus, they often cost less than hybrid vegetables, and you can save your own seeds from year to year.

  • Heirloom vegetables
    Once you’ve had the juice of a perfectly ripe, just-picked, sun-warmed heirloom tomato running down your chin, we’ll bet a million bucks you’ll never enjoy a bland, mealy, grocery store “tomato” ever again!

  • Heirloom vegetables

When you shop for vegetable seeds for your garden, there are two main types to choose from: modern hybrids or heirloom vegetable varieties. Hybrid seeds are created by crossing two selected varieties, sometimes resulting in vigorous plants that yield more than heirlooms. Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties, open-pollinated instead of hybrid, and saved and handed down through multiple generations of families. Usually, they cost less than hybrid seeds. But there are more reasons than just seed prices to choose heirlooms.

Why Choose Heirloom Seeds?

1. Exceptional taste is the No. 1 reason many gardeners cite for choosing heirloom varieties.

Crinkly-crisp cone-head cabbages from Sicily, nutty Native American squash, your grandma’s voluptuous deep red canning tomatoes — they all immediately invoke flavorful images for those who knew them in childhood and others who have discovered them.

“A lot of the breeding programs for modern hybrids have sacrificed taste and nutrition,” says George DeVault, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom and other rare seeds. “The standard Florida tomato is a good example. Instead of old-time juicy tangy tomatoes, it tastes like cardboard. It was bred to be picked green and gas-ripened because that’s what was needed for commercial growing and shipping.”

Many heirloom vegetables have been saved for decades and even centuries because they are the best performers in home and market gardens. Ship-ability wasn’t a concern so flavor could take a front seat, and it did. What direct-to-market farmer would survive if his cucumbers didn’t taste as good as his neighbor’s? Backyard gardeners rarely cart their produce cross-town much less cross-country. Even today, small market farmers don’t usually transport their harvest in huge tractor trailers. There’s no need to plant veggies bred to be tough when you can plant heirloom vegetables that are tender, sweet, juicy and just plain delicious.

2. Heirloom vegetables are likely to be more nutritious than newer varieties.

In addition to ship-ability, breeders and commercial growers have been steadily pushing for higher and higher yields. “But for home gardeners, a little difference in yield isn’t a big deal,” DeVault says.  And even though hybrids may often outyield heirlooms, it turns out we’re now paying a hidden cost for this emphasis on higher yields. Recent research has revealed that in many cases, newer vegetables and grains are significantly less nutritious than heirlooms. (For more details, see Industrial Farming is Giving Us Less Nutritious Food.)

3. Many gardeners prefer heirloom vegetables because they are open-pollinated, which means you can save your own seed to replant from year to year.

“Seeds saved from heirloom vegetables will produce plants that are true to type, unlike hybrid seeds. If you try to save seed from hybrids, you usually won’t get good results,” says Andrew Kaiser, manager at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

8/26/2009 9:39:19 AM

I planted about 5 heirloom varieties this year and boy are they fantastic! I will be saving seeds to continue this in the years to come. Good article! www.whatupduck.com

Raymond Overlin
7/19/2009 11:46:05 PM

Dear Mother people First let me express my thanks for your publication. My concern is organic seeds. Can you tell me the organic seed co. are honest and would ship good old fashioned seeds like we use to have. I have found that the seeds I buy are so hybrid that all my plants grow big and beautiful, but no fruit. My tomatoes do not ripen untill very late. My beets, corn, beans, spinish, well every plant is next to worthless. I'm 76 years old and starving to death before my time. My wife and I have to take vitimans to the point of not having room for food in our stomchs. Please help us young folks. Respectfully. Ray O

7/19/2009 7:17:24 PM

heirloom plants, in general, are the way to go, in my opinion. My Mom and Dad saved tomato seed, mainly Germans, and they were always the most flavorful tomatoes we grew. I positively refuse to eat those flavorless things that are sold under the guise of tomatoes that can be found in grocery stores, irregardless of the season. And trust me, if you think there is a difference in tomatoes, just try heirloom green beans. (Everyone know that at this time of year green beans and tomatoes go hand in hand.) If you haven't tried them, you don't know what you are missing.



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