In the past couple summers I’ve begun to experiment with heirloom plants. A friend bragged about her gorgeous heirloom roses and I just had to try.
First it was some tomato seedlings that produced very few but incredibly tasty fruit. Lesson learned, mix in a mass producing hybrid so I get all the fruit I need for freezing.
The next summer I tried heirloom nasturtiums and cosmos seeds. Both bloomed easily, prolifically and with wonderful results. So I’m sold and ready to learn more about what it means to grow heirlooms. Of course being a social media geek, I turned to Pinterest to gather facts, desires, blogs, tweetchat excerpts and of course a few sales pitches.
What determines if a plant is an heirloom? An heirloom pollinates naturally, has been handed down through generations for at least 50 years, and has unique, specific traits due to the many years of tending and breeding. In some cases the heirlooms crossed naturally without human assistance. They do not have a patent. An heirloom refers to flowers, herbs, trees, bushes, vegetables… pretty much anything that grows.
In several of the articles I read it was suggested that heirloom vegetables have more nutritional value than hybrids. I was unable to find the studies that substantiated this; however, if an heirloom is passed on through generations because its proven to be a great food staple then it may suggest greater nutritional value.
So if that is what an heirloom is then what are the others? They can be either:
- First Generation (F1) is a hybridized, patented, often sterile plants that can’t propagate further seasons on its own. They were created by crossing two different varieties of plants. Most of the seeds on store shelves are F1 hybrids.
- Genetically Modified (GM) seeds were modified in a lab to allow combinations of genes not possible through breeding. In some of the articles these were also referred to as F2 or next generation.
If heirlooms are tastier, prettier, more interesting, then why would anyone want a hybrid? Hybrids were created to address certain issues like disease, pests and of course consistent high yield. As I learned in my first experiment with tomatoes, the hybrid tomato plants out produced the heirlooms by a long shot. Also the hybrid seeds and seedlings are much less expensive than heirlooms.
There are still more benefits to planting heirlooms. Because of their genetic diversity, they tend to be stronger plants. Some are more pest and disease resistant than their hybrid cousins. They offer a greater variety of appearance, flavor and growing habit (example: purple dragon carrots) to entertain and amaze.
So if I have convinced you to give hybrids a try?
Looking for more info? Try The Complete Idiots Guide to Heirloom Vegetables by Chris McLaughlin.
Or you can try these sites to shop.