A big part of successful gardening is historic lore and the passing of that knowledge on to others for the next generation.
Growing heirlooms – uncommon varieties of food and flora – are a huge part of that rich history.
And I love the idea of planting the food of our ancestors. Plants that join each of us together, from country to country, continent to continent, and memory to memory. Food culture is a shared experience that beckons us all to the table.
What are heirlooms?
Heirlooms are a traditional variety of plant or breed of animal which is not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture, often passed down from generation to generation. Heirloom varieties have been grown for at least 50 years.
Why grow heirloom varieties?
Growing these storied varieties isn’t any harder than any other types when following an organic gardening practice. The beauty these one-of-a-kind plants bring to the garden is priceless. When we open our gardens to heirlooms, we’re opening hundreds of doors for possibilities yet unknown.
For me, perhaps the most important reason for planting heirloom varieties is to preserve these gene species for the future. Garden author Rosalind Creasy, said it best; “Home gardeners have the ability to help slow the erosion of our seed banks by continuing to grow and save seeds from harvests.” Growing heirloom seeds and seed saving later on is easier than one might believe. These are principle practices of growing a kitchen garden. If you haven’t saved seeds before, don’t fret, there are several responsible seed providers shipping heirloom varieties direct to consumers. Check out some of my preferred seed sources.
Planting heirloom varieties give gardeners freedom to select what works best in their gardens. Saving seeds from heirloom plants year after year, will build up a personal library of seeds from the plants that perform best in your local soil and climate. Since plants are much more adaptable than most of us realize, you’ll have a seed strain that is more resistant to local pests and diseases.
The Modern Heirloom Potager
Specifically growing heirlooms helps preserve history and cultural agriculture methodology, but also adds immense diversity to a garden space. Diversity that is becoming more and more valuable to home and culinary gardeners.
Heirlooms offer so much more than their hybrid cousins usually found in grocery stores across the country. Unique shapes, dazzling colors, and various sizes as well as unmatched flavor profiles. That flavor is the result of better nutrition. And better nutrition for animals and humans, comes from healthy, diverse soil that breeds the essence of high-quality sustainable food that will thrive for generations to come.
As many of us seek to live healthier lives, growing an heirloom garden full of hand-selected plants just makes sense. Turning wasted landscaping space into an even more bountiful garden or growing in containers nurtures our planet, our bodies, and our souls.