Saturday, June 2, 2007

Heirloom Vegetables

There are many definitions of heirloom vegetables. For some people the vegetable variety must be "old." What constitutes old is open for discussion. The year 1951 is often used as the cut off date as this was the beginning of mechanized agriculture and the need for vegetables that withstood large scale production. Others use WWII as the date as people often shared seeds from their "Victory" gardens. Heirloom plants must be open-pollinated so that the resulting seed will germinate "true to type," that is saved seed will germinate the next year and be just like its parent. Hybridized plants often produce sterile seed that does not germinate or does not grow "true to type."
Some heirlooms can be difficult to grow as they have not been bred to be disease resistance. When growing heirloom varieties it is important to use good horticultural practices. Water only the soil and water only in the morning. This will help to reduce fungal infestations. If your garden allows it, rotate your crops every year. Be careful when mulching and only mulch between the rows, not right up to the plant. If fungal infestations are a problem, start applying fungicides before the problem arises. Prevention really is worth a pound of cure, since it is hard, if not impossible to eradicate an infestation once it becomes apparent. There are several organic and low toxicity products available on the market.
One thing everyone does agree upon is that heirloom vegetables taste better. Below is a list of some of the more popular varieties.