The Best Heirloom Vegetables

comments (3) June 6th, 2013

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Antonio_Reis Antonio Reis, web producer
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Click To Enlarge Photo: Courtesy Seed Savers Exchange

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by John Torgrimson

When we moved to our small farm in Minnesota in 1994, we told our son, who was five at the time, that he could grow anything he wanted in our garden. "I want to grow bacon," he responded. We did raise "bacon" as well as chickens that year but decided to take our vegetable garden to another level, as well. We opted to buy many of our transplants and seeds at nearby Seed Savers Exchange. This was our first introduction to heirloom seeds and the great bounty and wonderful taste that open-pollinated varieties provide. We have been disciples of heirlooms ever since.

Gardeners sometimes think that heirloom varieties are more susceptible to pests and diseases because, unlike many hybrids, they weren't specially bred to resist these threats. This isn't necessarily true. Heirloom varieties that are grown in the same location year after year will, in fact, naturally adapt to regional conditions, making them a hedge against pests, diseases, and changing environmental conditions. Of the hundreds of heirlooms that I've grown, these eight varieties have become regular fixtures in my USDA Hardiness Zone 4 garden, selected for their superb taste and ease of growing.


'Gold Medal' tomato

My wife, Pat, and I grow about six to eight different heirloom tomato varieties each year-from cherries to slicers to canners. 'Gold Medal', a fist-size, orange-red beefsteak, is my "sit-down-in-the-garden-and-eat-it-right-now" favorite. When I am able to display some degree of discipline, I eat it sliced on toast with a dash of olive oil and basil on top. This moderate-yield tomato is, for me, the singular taste of summer. Start the indeterminate plants inside, and transplant them as soon as the threat of frost has passed.

Days to Maturity: 75 to 90

'Gold Medal' tomato
'Early Scarlet Globe' radish
















'Early Scarlet Globe' radish

Spinach and radishes are the first things I harvest each spring, and this variety is one of the earliest to mature. Direct-sow the seed when the ground is workable, regardless of whether the last frost of spring has occurred. The 1-inch-diameter globes have a bright red skin and white flesh, and although I associate planting and eating radishes with a new spring garden, this variety can also be grown in fall. I like to serve 'Early Scarlet Globe' sliced and mixed into salads-that is, if the radishes ever make it into the kitchen. But I often do the same thing I did as a child, when my mother would sit with me and we'd eat them straight out of the veggie patch.

Days to Maturity: 20 to 28

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Comments (3)

hvweightloss writes: Truly inspiring!
Posted: 6:27 am on June 23rd
RuthC1956 writes: Love heirlooms. we planted indigo rose (black) tomato, a purple tomato, a yellow pear, a German Green heirloom. Our local farmers market has a couple of farmers with organic heirloom plants and we love it.

Never have ordered seeds from a company, usually get plants from farmers market.

Would really like to try these varieties. Thank you for the information
Posted: 9:23 am on June 19th
GardenGrl1 writes: Great introduction to heirlooms! There are several here that I have yet to try, and I appreciate you sharing your personal experience with growing them. The descriptions are very informative and I like that you give hints to planting. I, too, have found that planting carrots in containers is so much easier for me than in-ground planting & the carrots look better (normal). Thanks for a great article!
Posted: 8:26 am on June 19th
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