Defining Heirloom Plants
Defining Heirloom Plants. According to Burpee “the term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetables varieties that were being grown before World War II”. These plants have had generations to develop the characteristics that give their fruit flavor, give the plants natural growth habits and, unfortunately, sometimes leaves the plants susceptible to disease.
Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated meaning that mother-nature does most of the work. Plant a grouping of seeds of an heirloom pepper or tomato and you will collect seeds that will produce plants with most of the characteristics of the parent plants. Considerations should be made for bees coming to your garden after having visited your neighbors’ gardens and adding a bit of variance – but that may be good. Heirloom vegetables may produce a “mixed bag” harvest. The harvest may come in less predictably, and fruit size can vary greatly even on the same plant.
One of the main reasons I like to garden with heirlooms is, in my mind anyway, I am nothing more than an extension of nature. The seeds used are generations in the making. Nature has established the characteristics not a scientist in a lab. Growing with heirloom seeds, harvesting the seeds to use next year and then sharing seeds with family and friends adds a diversity of choices for the garden and is a good thing as you bring diversity in the natural gene pool.
Most heirlooms are not archaic plants that some adventurer discovered after fighting off hungry wolves, as Burpee describes it: “Many other heirlooms are commercially-bred varieties from the seed catalogs of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Since W. Atlee Burpee & Co. was founded in 1876, the name “Burpee” turns up in many an heirloom vegetable catalog”. If you have never attempted to grow heirloom plants, give it a try, you may find flavors and plants you like.