Friday, May 25, 2012

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables
The 100 Easiest-to-Grow Tastiest Vegetables for Your Garden
By Marie Iannotti

As the growing season gets into full swing, you might be making some last minute choices on vegetables to plant.  How about some heirlooms?  Breeding has changed the flavor of many of our vegetables.  If you think the flavor of vegetables from years ago was better or more intense, you might just be right.  Heirloom vegetables bring back those flavors.

What is an heirloom vegetable?  According to this book, they must be open pollination, meaning their seeds will grow into plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant, they must be more than 50 years old, and they must have been handed down so that we know where they came from.

“…an heirloom can be anything of value that is passed down through generations, be it jewelry, baseball cards, your first grade report card, or a humble jar of beans.”

Marie also points out that we’ve gotten used to buying new seeds every year but in days gone by, you had to save seeds to plant the next year.  “When we save seeds, we tend to be selective, so the seeds handed down from generation to generation are often among the best vegetable varieties ever grown.”

I had to laugh when I read, “Homegrown heirloom vegetables can be so beautiful and delicious that it seems you could simply inhale them, and many vegetables never make it all the way from the garden to the kitchen.”  I recalled days when my father would pick a kohlrabi and peel it with his pocket knife and feed me slices in the garden, or the simple pleasure of opening a ripe pea pod and eating the raw sweet peas straight out of the jacket.

Marie divides her top picks into Aromatic, Beautiful, Classic, Colorful, Long Season, Prolific, Spicy, Sweet, Unusual, and Versatile.  All the while keeping in mind that limiting it to 100 means she needed to pick the hardiest and flavors you won’t usually find.

For each entry she includes information on ideal sun exposure, soil temperature, planting depth, days to germination, spacing and days to maturity, growing notes, how to harvest, tips and others to try, as well as anecdotes of its origin and vivid descriptions of the plant and vegetable that capture its splendor. 

From artichokes and asparagus to squash, I recognize some of the vegetables in this collection.  The Chioggia beet has been extolled in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Chiot’s Run organic gardening blog has mentioned many as well.  Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi is a childhood memory.  Rainbow Swiss Chard, Kentucky Wonder green bean, French Breakfast radish, White Icicle radish, and Cherokee Purple tomato are all present and accounted for.

This book also brought others to my attention that I had not yet heard of.  It made me want to grow “German Butterball “ potatoes that melt in your mouth and Small Sugar squash looks and sounds like a delectable, compact, pie pumpkin. 

Marie ends with a section on creating your own heirlooms and seed-saving basics, with a more specific guide to different types of plants.  There is also a small glossary of terms, a chart of hardiness zones and a resource list of companies and some suggested reading, plus the ever present index.

“Their true splendor comes from being too scrumptious to forget, so we continue to grow and eat them for generations.” 

Check it out for some inspiration in your garden!

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