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When you grow heirloom seeds, you help keep history alive by ensuring these plants don’t go extinct. In fact, home gardeners can play a role in preserving these special foods for the next generation, by deciding to grow older varieties in their gardens.
I like the way open-pollinated heirloom plants allow gardeners to save the seeds, so they can be sowed again and again. That’s how these old varieties have survived all these years. Unfortunately, hybrid seeds will not reproduce true to form, so their seeds aren’t saved.
In my garden, you’ll always find plenty of heirloom and historic plants. These four are some of my favorite heirloom vegetables to grow in my kitchen garden. Best of all, they grow best from seeds sowed directly in the garden.
Let’s get started with that heirloom bean growing on that bean teepee shown above...
‘Purple Pod’ pole bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): Growing up to six feet tall, this pretty pole bean was discovered in a 1930s Ozark garden. The purple bean is probably of northern European origin, according to Seed Savers Exchange, one of the largest non-profit heirloom seed banks in the United States. When this purple bean is cooked, it turns green. I barely steam the young, fresh-picked beans to retain some color, and toss them on salads.
On my bean teepee, I grow three or four varieties for different colored beans (e.g., yellow and green), all ripening at slightly different times. But ‘Purple Pod’ is always one of the beans I grow.
Plant bean seeds directly in the garden, in full sun, after the last frost date. Sometimes birds like to eat my little bean plants as they grow. Covering them with bird netting in the early stages can protect the seedlings.
‘Patison Golden Marbre Scallop’ Squash (C. Pepo): This French heirloom has the rare distinction of providing both summerandwinter squashes on the same plant. The summer scallops are as sweet and tender as can be. But if you leave the squashes on the vine later in the season, the skin hardens and they become winter squashes. It’s like two squash plants in one! No wonder I like this old variety so much.
Squash is another warm-season vegetable that should be planted in full sun, after the last frost date. The warm-season vegetable is a heavy feeder, so amend your soil well with compost, manure, worm castings or other nutrient sources.
I like to start squashes from seeds planted directly in the garden. But if you’re trying to save time, you can start seeds indoors. Just don’t disturb the roots when you transplant seedlings.
As the plants start to grow, you can avoid many fungal problems by watering at the roots, and not wetting the foliage.
‘Blue Jade’ Corn (Zea mays): How can you not love a sweet corn that grows in containers, and produces this amazing steel-blue corn? This heirloom corn bears three to six ears per plant in about 70 to 80 days. See for yourself if this delicious blue corn doesn’t impress your snobbiest foodie friends.
My seed package said these plants grow two to three feet tall. But my plants easily reached more than four feet in my raised beds. Still, ‘Blue Jade’ can be kept relatively small, compared to other sweet corn varieties. This makes it ideal for small, urban or container gardens.
Corn is a warm-season crop that thrives in full sun and rich, well amended soil. Sow seeds directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. For effective cross-pollination, plant corn in a three or four-row block – not in a long row.
‘French Market’ Carrot (Daucus carota): Have you always wanted to grow carrots, but your garden soil was too hard and rocky? This is the carrot for you. As you can see, the round carrot is shaped in a way that allows it to grow well where many types won’t.
The French heirloom carrot dates back to the 19th century, and goes under different names such as ‘Tonda di Parigi.’ But it’s particularly beloved for its sweet taste, deep orange color and unusual size.
Sow carrot seeds in the garden, anytime from a few weeks before the last frost date in spring to about a month before the first frost in autumn. Cover the tiny seeds only minimally with soil. Carrot seeds germinate slowly so many gardeners grow them with the faster-ripening radish. By the time the radishes are harvested, the carrots should be popping out of the ground. This variety ripens in only 60 days.
Round carrots. Blue corn. Purple beans. And a very flexible squash plant. These four amazing heirlooms are just some of the wonderful heritage foods that I love to grow in my garden. Once you start growing these historic seeds, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner! See for yourself why these rare, heirloom vegetables have been so popular for all these years.