Tag Archive | heirloom

Our Vegetable Inheritance

downloadAmong food and garden lovers alike, the current buzzword for value is heirloom, a very good description of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms can be saved year after year, and although we always think of the word as extending toward the past, it’s just as relevant to the future: heirlooms aren’t just what our great-grandparents grew, they are also the varieties we can leave to our great-grandchildren.

Heirlooms are most famous for offering great flavor and for enabling the gardener to “grow your own” from start to finish. But they offer a lot more than freedom from the need to buy seed every year.

Adaptability, for instance. Heirlooms are the special province of individuals and of small, regional seed companies, who do not need to sell zillions of packets in order to make a profit; and that means they tend to be better attuned to specific local conditions (drought in the Southwest, humidity in the Southeast, cold in the North) than “one size fits all” hybrids.

Hybrids are created through carefully controlled parentage, and as a result they are uniform. Every plant will be about the same size, and it will bear its fruit in the same narrow time frame. These characteristics are important to the mechanized operations of commercial growers, but they don’t do much for home gardeners.

And though hybrid varieties are often disease resistant, they are identically so. If a disease strikes that they cannot resist, every single plant will suffer.

Heirlooms, on the other hand, are individuals. Even when they are grown from seeds that came in the same packet, each plant is subtly different from every other. They grow and ripen unevenly, so you get a longer harvest period. And they are unevenly vulnerable to diseases. When trouble strikes, some plants will no doubt be afflicted, but others may come through.

All this is not to say there’s no place for hybrids, but hybrids are not in danger. It’s heirlooms that rely on home gardeners for their continued survival, heirlooms that offer independence, and heirlooms that give gardeners a chance to do their part for the preservation of genetic diversity.

To learn more, and to gain access to a huge assortment of delicious possibilities, consul the Garden Seed Inventory, available from Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101; (563) 382-5990; http://www.seedsavers.org. It explains, eloquently, why heirlooms are important. And it is the source of sources, listing very nearly all the open-pollinated (nonhybrid) vegetable seeds available commercially in the United States, along with the names and addresses of the companies that supply them.

Within OCMGA, we have a dedicated group of members working with Seed Savers — watch this blog for an article about their efforts.

The Learning Garden “Veggies”

by OCMGA Master Gardeners Peg Ebben and Lynn Coffeen

We worked together in a traditional garden plot approximately 8×10 ft and wanted to focus on growing veggies we had not grown before. We decided on several heirloom varieties. Our trail of Gold Marie pole beans did well as did the Cour Di Bue ox heart cabbage which was very tender. The Sweet Dumpling winter squash was very tasty. We also liked the round (pool ball) zucchini. But the squash would have fit our space better if we had grown them on trellises. Our choice of two heirloom tomatoes produced well, but grew too large and took over a large amount of our space. Our patio tomato did well (but produced less) and was a better size choice for the space we had. One of the best things we tried was the Lincoln leeks. They needed to be started indoors, but were relatively easy to grow and were delicious! Our over-all perspective was don’t be afraid to try new things, as most did very well, were great tasting and we were able to save seeds from some of the heirloom varieties. One important lesson we learned was to be more conscious of the space you have. Pick varieties that fit your space and or utilize more trellising. In all it was a very positive learning experience!

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

Tomatoes – the Legend of Louie

by Tammy Borden

maxresdefaultI confess, I’m not much of a vegetable gardener. I much prefer the delicate beauty of flowers and using them to design a stunning landscape. For some reason, a pepper plant swaying in the breeze doesn’t bring me the same delight as that of the tender blossom of a bleeding heart or daffodil.

But then there is the tomato… Yes, I know, to the true botanists out there it’s not technically a vegetable, but a fruit. Although, in 1887, the U.S. Supreme Court did apparently rule that it was indeed a vegetable. So legally, it seems, the tomato is not a fruit. Ah, but I digress.

For me, it’s not the most attractive of garden plants, so that’s not why I cherish it so much. And it’s not so much that I even like the taste of tomatoes. I would much prefer a freshly pulled carrot after wiping the dirt off on my sleeve, or those sweet sugar snap peas plucked right from the vine. Yes, my love of the tomato runs deeper than my taste buds. My love of the tomato is because of love itself.

His name was Louie… a larger than life character. I remember visiting his house in early spring and walking through the narrow pathways formed in his garage that hadn’t seen a car in years. Every possible space was filled with flats of seedlings. There were many kinds of plants that he intended to later sell out of the back of his rusty Volkswagen van at a nearby parking lot. The crudely written price signs drawn with a grease pencil on a sheet of notebook paper were his only marketing tool.

But his plants were legendary, and his pride and joy were his tomatoes: Early Girl, Jet Star, Beefsteak, Giant Pinks, and the list went on. He could tell you the unique characteristics of each variety – its flavor, color, shape, texture and size. I remembered his own small plot of land where he grew tomatoes that looked like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors. They were immense, with plants reaching the eaves of his house and tomatoes the size of musk melons.

Louie was my father-in-law, and I had the privilege of knowing him for more than 15 years before he went to that big tomato patch in the sky where there is no disease or blight – a comforting thought as I reflect on his battle with cancer and emphysema that eventually took his life. But his passion for the lowly tomato did not go unnoticed, and I have since taken on the challenge of continuing the tradition. Now, I am the one hauling flats of seedlings to share with friends and co-workers. Now I am the one saving seeds from his mystery Heirloom tomato – the one he always called “Giant Pink.”

The tomato… When I pluck that first one from the vine I get an immense sense of satisfaction and nostalgia as I think of Louie. That’s why gardening is so much more than a laborious task of weeding and pest control to me. Gardening for me is about relationships. Yes, much of my time in the garden is spent alone. But even in solitude I’m reminded of relationships – I can look at a plant and tell you who gave me a cutting of it, who I was with when I got it, who helped me plant it… As I look at the birds and butterflies I enjoy my relationship with nature and the one who created it all. And the lowly tomato – I can’t look at one without being reminded of my relationship with Louie, whom some may have considered a lowly old man himself, but whose wisdom and beauty brought unbelievable flavor to my life. Those are the things that make gardening so meaningful and enjoyable for me. Those are the things of life.

Louie’s Top Ten Tips for Tomatoes

1. Don’t over water seedlings – let them dry out a little

2. Dry leaves – wet roots… always water seedlings from the bottom

3. Keep seedlings out of brisk winds

4. Use a 15-30-15 fertilizer

5. Plant the seedlings deep!

6. Use lots of compost

7. Sun! Sun! Sun!

8. They grow best in soil between 6-7 ph

9. Once planted, keep consistently moist

10. A little salt and pepper on a slice of Giant Pink – nothing better!

Heirloom Annuals

originally printed in the summer 2006 edition of the Outagamie County Master Gardener Association newsletter

Old Fashioned Beauties By Tammy Borden

When we hear seasoned gardeners proudly talking about their heirloom plants, they often boast about their wonderful tomatoes and vegetable varieties. And rightfully so! My favorite tomato is a variety that my uncle Ralph has been saving seeds from for nearly 40 years. We don’t know the name, but they reliably produce large, pink, meaty and delicious tomatoes year after year.

Still, my latest fascination is large heirloom annuals for the back of the border. As I thumbed through my Seed Saver Exchange catalogue I couldn’t help but notice that of the 79 pages, there were only 9 featuring flowering annuals. Of the dozen or so varieties of plants beneath grow lights in my basement, half are heirlooms. So, I thought I’d share some with you…via paper, that is!

Night Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) An amazingly stunning plant. It’s stately stalks hold hundreds of long 3” trumpet-shaped white flowers that attract hummingbirds. Also referred to as Woodland tobacco, it reaches 5’ tall. The tiny seeds germinate easily and it seems almost impossible for such an impressive plant to be produced from a seed smaller than a grain of salt. The foliage is impressive too, with leaves reaching 6” or more across.


Hyacinth Bean Vine

Hyacinth Bean Vine (Dolichos Lablab) Even if this plant never bloomed, I’d still grow it for its lush deep blue/green foliage laced with veins of burgundy, and accented by strong purple stems. When flowers appear in late summer it takes your breath away, and the glossy maroon pods that follow are beautiful and exotic looking. It will quickly take over a trellis and grow 10-15’ if given the room. A must have.

Grandpa Otts Morning Glory Vine (Iomoea purpurea) This variety of morning glory is so beautiful that it helped inspire the formation of The Seed Saver’s Exchange. It was originally introduced in 1930. The color is an intense violet-blue, with a ruby star in the center. The vine will cover fences and trellises, or can be grown as a groundcover. Also looks great in hanging baskets or pots. Very easy to grow, even in poor soil, and has reseeded itself readily my garden.

Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) I confess that it is not a long-time favorite. In fact, this is the first year I’ve tried rowing them. I was told they were hard to start from seed, so I took on the challenge! The key was placing the planted seeds, soil and all, in- side the refrigerator for a week. When I removed them and placed them beneath grown lights, they sprouted within a few days. I’m excited to see these 2-3 foot beauties featuring stalks of bright green “bells” lighting up a sunny spot in my garden this year. The ruffled seedlings are already intriguing!

Kiss me Over the Garden Gate (Polygonum orientale) My friend, Kay, suggested this plant. She’ even used it in bouquets for a wedding. Its graceful arching pink fronds mixed with sunflowers are especially beautiful. Give it room at the back of a sunny border and this 6’ tall wonder will keep blooming all summer. Once you find seeds for this annual, you’ll most likely never have to buy them again since it readily self-sows in your garden. It’s hard to transplant, so if you start it indoors, be sure to use a peat pot that can go directly into the ground.

The beauty of heirloom flowers is not just in their appearance. By saving seeds from these beauties you can continue the cycle of life for generations. Plus, heirlooms are generally more resistant to disease and problems than many hybrids, requiring fewer chemicals and fuss. Try some of these varieties and find that what’s old is new again.