Are heirloom plants better?

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 bred to ensure shipment quality, yield and disease resistance, so flavor 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 tend to taste much better and have a brighter color. Relics can be even more nutritious. However, relics aren't as smooth and perfect as hybrids, and you may notice quirks and imperfections. Viveka Neveln is the garden editor at BHG and a licensed horticulturist with extensive experience in gardening who gained more than 3 decades of practice and study.

He has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing for both print and digital media.

Growing heirloom seeds

in your garden can literally bring the past to life. These seeds have been stored and cultivated for decades or even centuries, so you could grow the same variety of plant that Thomas Jefferson had in his garden more than 200 years ago. While you may have heard of traditional tomatoes or other vegetables, you may not know that you can find seeds for heirloom varieties of many other plants, such as herbs and flowering annuals.

Here's a look at what exactly heirloom seeds are and five reasons they deserve a place in your garden. Because relics are ancient, many of these seed varieties have interesting stories associated with them. For example, the mallard “Black Watchman” can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson's garden in Monticello (and is mentioned in texts as early as 162). Thanks to gardeners passing on these seeds from generation to generation, this variety of mallard with almost black flowers can still be grown today.

Plus, you have an interesting story to tell anyone who asks about this tall, eye-catching plant in your garden. Traditional varieties of most vegetables tend to be especially tasty. This is largely because the taste, in a sense, has been unintentionally obtained from many modern vegetable varieties. By focusing on things like promoting disease resistance or extended shelf life, modern plant breeding has neglected flavor selection, leading to less and less tasty products over time.

Another benefit of relics is nutrition. It turns out that over the years, as farmers have selected hybrids because they ship better or produce higher yields, concessions have been made not only for flavor, but also for nutrition; relics are often richer in nutrients than hybrids. Due to the long time it takes to create a heirloom variety, along with the open pollination method, traditional plant varieties are extremely faithful to seeds. The seeds collected from the first plant will produce plants that are very similar to the parent plant.

This makes heirloom varieties reliable, but it also removes a certain element of chaos and surprise that some gardeners find entertaining. It also means that heirloom varieties are not always the best options for parent plants to create hybrids, since they are very stable. Heirloom seeds have been selected as the best in a crop and then passed down from generation to generation. If you keep seeds of a hybrid, one or two plants out of 10 grown from these seeds will be faithful to the parent plant.

Heirloom Gardener, probably a source who knows the answer, says: “Some authors and relic enthusiasts say that cultivars must be at least 50 years old to be worthy of the term. But first, what exactly is a heirloom plant and what makes a plant a heirloom? The answer isn't as simple as it sounds, but the following information should help. Tomatoes are definitely the most common heirloom vegetable that people can find, but pumpkin, peppers, eggplant, and corn are also widely cultivated. 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).

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad process, nor does it mean that heirloom seeds aren't good value for money. All heir plants are open pollinated, which means that the seeds produce the same characteristics as the parent plant from one year to the next. Interest in heirloom plants has flourished in recent years, and you may be interested in trying your hand at growing heirlooms in your own garden. 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 difficult to find.

In addition, traditional seed germination can be slow or staggered, which can be beneficial if you prefer your crop not to fully mature at once. Enter any agricultural market and you'll see a wide range of traditional vegetables for sale, often for a higher price than their hybrid cousins (especially when it comes to traditional tomatoes). Regional seed companies or local seed libraries often have local relics, so see if you can find one in your area. .


Erika Shipley
Erika Shipley

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