The brandywine tomato (left) is probably the most famous of the heirloom tomatoes; known for its succulence and remarkable flavor.
Just what are heirloom vegetables?
They are plants grown from seeds that have been propagated in small farms and backyard gardens over the decades; saved and passed down from one family or group of people to the next generation. Hence the name heirloom.
Heirloom veggies have recently become very trendy and popular by home gardeners as they experiment with these interesting and delicious strains of crops. By the way, heirloom seeds are all open pollinated, as hybrid seeds cannot be saved.
Sadly, many prized species of vegetables have been lost forever, as over the decades, fewer people saved seed. Just like an extinct animal, they can never be resurrected.
So growing heirlooms and saving the seeds to pass on is a very noble and worthwhile project which helps preserve our heritage!
Why else should you grow heirloom vegetables? They usually have superior taste and tenderness.
The downside is, growing heirlooms can be quite a challenge. Because they are not bred for commercial use, they usually lack disease resistance, are more fragile, bruise easily, and do not keep very long. Heirloom tomato strains are prone to misshapen fruit, cracking and catfacing.
But if you like a challenge, and are willing to watch them carefully, grow some heirloom seeds, the reward for your trouble is superior taste!
Besides the Brandywine, other heirloom tomatoes which are well suited to hydroponic gardens: Cherokee Purple, Rainbow, Lillian's Yellow, Giant Beefsteak, Arkansas Traveler and Mortgage Lifter (see box).
Check around at garden supply centers, as more and more heirloom seeds are popping up on the shelves.
Other popular heirloom strains are noted below. You might notice that some of them have been offered by major seed suppliers for years.
Green beans: Blue Lake, Top Crop, Kentucky wonder, Contender
Cucumbers: Straight Eight, Spacemaster, Lemon Cucumber
Squash: Early Summer Crookneck, Black Beauty Zucchini
Eggplant: Black Beauty, Violetta di Firenze
Peppers: California Wonder, Sweet Banana Pepper, Jalapeno
Cantaloupe: Hales Best Jumbo
Watermelon: Charleston Gray (BIG), Sugar Baby
Broccoli: De Cicco, Waltham
Carrots: Little Fingers
Lettuce: Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, Parris Island Cos Romaine
This fascinating website offers a great selection of heirloom seeds, well packaged to last for years:
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