Are heirloom plants healthier?

Heirloom varieties may taste better or different, but heirloom plants generally produce about half the fruit with the same amount of fertilizer, water, and space. One reason for growing them is that the more diverse our selection of food plants, the lower the risk that new pathogens will destroy an entire crop. In general, traditional vegetables offer good flavor. Taste is subjective, but older varieties were generally grown for local consumption and for fresh consumption, says Shawn Wright, a horticultural specialist at the University of Kentucky.

However, many of the new hybrid varieties being developed today are grown to ensure shipping quality, yield, and disease resistance, so taste is not always the top priority. Relic breeders select the varieties that grow best in their environment. Over the years, the strongest and healthiest plants are selected to produce seeds. This selection process causes the cultivar to change over time to better adapt to the local environment.

Many people prefer relics because they usually taste much better and have a more vivid color. Relics can be even more nutritious. However, relics aren't as smooth and perfect as hybrids, and you may notice quirks and imperfections. As you browse through a heirloom seed catalog, you can find images of purple sweet potatoes, black radishes, swirling romanesco broccoli, and multicolored popcorn.

So if you want to grow that strain at a later time, you'll need to buy new seeds instead of growing the seeds you saved from that plant. Sweet potato is a natural GMO and you can get seeds for it, which means you can have a GMO relic. If you wanted to grow your own traditional tomatoes, you would have to choose from 35,000 different varieties that have been preserved around the world for generations. All heirloom plants are open pollinated, meaning that the seeds produce the same characteristics as the parent plant from one year to the next.

Unlike hybrids, open-pollinated seeds reproduce “true to type”, which means that the offspring will show the same characteristics as the parent plant and the seeds can be saved from season to season. Of course, relics aren't genetically modified, so if you're growing a heirloom plant in the garden, you might also be cultivating a bit of history, especially those that are quite rare and hard to find. In general, you should consider that relics are seeds that can grow back and pass from one generation to the next. All heirloom seeds are non-GMO (meaning genetically modified organisms, or plants whose DNA has been artificially changed, often with genes from unrelated species that they could not naturally cross with).

I couldn't find tasteful studies that compared the relic to the hybrid, so I think the question of better taste for the relic is still up in the air. Enter any agricultural market and you'll see a wide range of traditional vegetables for sale, often at a higher price than their hybrid cousins (especially when it comes to traditional tomatoes). Here's a look at what exactly heirloom seeds are and five reasons they deserve a place in your garden. Many heirloom varieties began as hybrids between two or more heirloom varieties, such as Mortgage Lifter.

Most heirloom seeds are kept year after year in home gardens, and families or communities can trace the variety decades, if not centuries. With the increasing demand for heirloom seeds, you'll find that it's not as difficult as before to obtain them. Heirloom seeds come from open-pollinated plants that transmit similar characteristics and traits from the parent plant to the daughter plant. .

Erika Shipley
Erika Shipley

Subtly charming beer nerd. Extreme internet specialist. Devoted travel junkie. Proud coffee maven. Friendly problem solver.