19 best heirloom plants

Time-tested edibles give you a world of diversity in your own backyard––and delicious flavors on your table

What is an heirloom?

Photo by Thomas J. Story

What is an heirloom?

Although debate rages on the exact definition, an heirloom is—it’s generally agreed—an open-pollinated variety of fruit or vegetable developed before mass commer­cial hybridization began in the 1950s. As such, its seeds grow true: The offspring look and taste just like their parents. Handed down from generation to generation, heirlooms have tended to be selected for flavor, not how well they survive shipping or how perfect they look. That’s why ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes are so sweet and juicy, lemon cucumbers so zesty and crunchy, and ‘Red Kuri’ winter squash so creamy and nutty-flavored. And even if they’re not the classic, flawlessly symmetrical specimens we’re used to seeing in grocery stores, they’re gorgeous in their own fascinating, idiosyncratic ways.

Lemon cucumber

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Lemon cucumber

Eat it like an apple or use it to garnish cold drinks. It’s crisp and refreshing, without any bitterness.

More: How to grow cucumbers

‘Mexican Sour Gherkin’ cucumber (Melothria scabra)

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Mexican Sour Gherkin’ cucumber (Melothria scabra) 

The fruit looks like a baby watermelon, but its flesh is crunchy like a cucumber.

More: How to grow cucumbers

‘Galeux d’Eysines’ squash

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Galeux d’Eysines’ squash

This French heirloom’s knotty, textured exterior is like brocade on salmon-colored silk.

More: How to grow winter squash

‘Pink Accordion’ tomato

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Pink Accordion’ tomato

Its pleated shape resembles a satin evening clutch. A great tomato to stuff.

More: How to grow tomatoes

‘Lebanese Bunching’ eggplant

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Lebanese Bunching’ eggplant

Three or four eggplant grow on every stem.

More: How to grow eggplant

‘Asian Winged’ bean

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Asian Winged’ bean

Feathery edges on the pods make these beans look as if they’ll fly away.

More: How to grow beans

‘Green Nutmeg’ melon

Photo by Linda Lamb Peters

‘Green Nutmeg’ melon

A compact melon with sweet flavor.

More: How to grow melons

‘Pretzel’ bean

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Pretzel’ bean

The plant is vigorous, and the pods twist like ram’s horns.

More: How to grow beans

‘Jimmy Nardello’s’ pepper

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Jimmy Nardello’s’ pepper

Its thin skin turns creamy and soft when cooked, especially in stir-fries. Or slice and sauté it for sandwiches.

More: How to grow peppers

‘Jarrahdale’ pumpkin

Photo by Jeffery Cross

‘Jarrahdale’ pumpkin

Find vibrant golden yellow to orange flesh beneath that gray-green exterior.

More: How to grow winter squash

‘Cimmaron’ lettuce

Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

‘Cimmaron’ lettuce

Deep red leaves on this romaine-type head are crisp, juicy, and delicious. Striking in salads.

More: How to grow lettuce

‘Chioggia’ beet

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Chioggia’ beet

Each slice reveals a bull’s-eye pattern.

More: How to grow beets

‘Freckles’ lettuce

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Freckles’ lettuce

The red speckles turn darker and darker as temperatures drop and sunlight increases.

More: How to grow lettuce

‘Romanesco’ broccoli

Photo by Thomas J. Story

‘Romanesco’ broccoli

Its chartreuse florets look otherworldly.

More: How to grow broccoli

‘Hinona Kabu’ turnip

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Hinona Kabu’ turnip

Slice it raw to drop into salads.

More: How to grow turnips

‘Japanese Giant Red’ Mustard

Photo by Brian Dunne/Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

‘Japanese Giant Red’ Mustard

Let the spicy purple-red leaves grow large, then use them in stir-fries or in soup.

More: How to grow mustard greens

‘Red Russian’ kale

Photo by Rob Cardillo

‘Red Russian’ kale

This variety becomes super sweet if grown through a cold snap.

More: How to grow kale

‘French Breakfast’ radish

Photo by Johanna Silver

‘French Breakfast’ radish

Dramatic pink and white coloring meets mild flavor.

More: How to grow radishes

‘Red of Florence’ onion

Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

‘Red of Florence’ onion

This oblong Italian heritage onion tastes sweet and mild.

More: How to grow onions

Top tips for growing heirlooms

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Top tips for growing heirlooms

Inspired by a 1990 Sunset article on heirlooms, Jere Gettle put his first seed catalog together when he was 17 years old. Since then, his Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) has become one of the most recognized sources of heirloom seeds; the current catalog offers more than 1,400 varieties. Here are his top tips for growing heirlooms:

1. Start with healthy soil. We mix chicken and duck litter into the soil before planting time. We also mulch heavily with straw each year; as it breaks down, it adds more organic matter to the soil.

2. Choose the right varieties for your area. Look for crops that were developed in a similar climate. If you live in California’s Central Valley, seek out varieties developed in places with really hot summers, like Texas or Thailand. On the coast, try varieties from places with shorter growing seasons, like Norway or northern Japan.

3. Give plants the space they need. If you want to save seeds to plant next year, give the crops enough room this year so that they won’t cross-pollinate. Otherwise, the seed they produce might result in crops next year that look or taste different from the parents. This is especially true for members of the melon, squash, and cucumber family. If your space is small, grow just one variety per year so that cross-pollination can’t happen.

Printed from:
http://www.sunset.com/garden/fruits-veggies/heirloom-plants-00418000075584/