Growing heirloom seeds has given me a greater respect for growing food and with that, a deeper appreciation of the natural world. Before I started gardening, I had no idea what an heirloom vegetable was or how they would eventually shape my journey to a simpler life. Growing and saving primitive seeds is literally passing down history. How grounding, to witness the growth of a seed passed down through generations, unadulterated by modern demands, ripening the same as it has for centuries. The best part of it all: Anyone can grow their own heirlooms, and here are five of my favorite varieties that were prolific growers my first year growing them. For a good overview of the advantages of growing heirloom seeds over hybrid, I recommend you check out the Mother Earth News article, Heirloom Vegetables: 6 Advantages Compared to Hybrids.
Mexican sour gherkins. These are bite-sized cucumbers that you eat like a grape but they look like watermelons. They are a delicious cucumber with a faint taste of lemon. Eat them raw in salads, or pickle your bounty to enjoy later if you have a bumper crop (which you will). These are perfect for kids to grow because of their compact size. I did not expect the delicate-looking plants to grow as strong and climb as to tall up our cucumber trellis, but they did. Try these once and you will want to grow them every year, they are just that awesome!
‘Dragon Tongue’ beans. I was immediately drawn to this Dutch heirloom because of its beautiful purple stripes. A prolific bush-type bean that produces long 7” pods, this tender and delicious bean is a favorite among our friends and family. I froze a whole bunch of what we couldn't eat fresh and we enjoyed them all winter long. We’ve been ery pleased with this gorgeous, tasty bean!
Photo credit: www.RareSeeds.com
‘Charentais’ melon. If there were a variety of melon that could win the award for sweetest and best-tasting melon, it would be the ‘Charentais.’ This French heirloom produces petit fruit that when ripe give off the loveliest fragrance. It’s a treat to all of your senses when combined with the bright orange flesh. This melon is an all-around delight to grow and towards the very top of my “favorites” list.
‘Great White’ tomato. These mild, incredibly delicious, 1 lb. tomatoes have hints of pineapple flavor. Who even knew there was such a thing as a tropical-tasting tomato? This tomato is easy to grow, super tasty raw, and makes a scrumptious white tomato sauce. Though I haven't tried it yet, a white salsa with this tomato would be beautiful! I do believe that making some white salsa this summer just became a primary goal of mine.
‘Golden Sunshine’ runner beans. Have you ever considered growing runner beans for their flowers? The ‘Golden Sunshine’ variety produces hefty pods which are good for eating fresh or for preserving, but the most interesting part of this plant are its beautiful red flowers against chartreuse leaves that make an incredible statement in the garden. If you're looking for that kind of statement, look no further! You can’t go wrong with a dense, colorful wall of foliage and then reap the reward of bean pods later.
There are so many more fruits and vegetables out there than the few common selections you have at the supermarket. Why not expand your palate and treat your eyes to a cornucopia of shapes and colors that make heirlooms such a treat to grow in your own garden. The five varieties listed have been proven winners in my garden, and are a great way to get your feet wet (or hands dirty). An entire world of heirlooms awaits you.
Photo credits: Amber Allen