5 Grow-Anywhere Heirlooms

BY BILL THORNESS ON APRIL 19TH, 2016

Heirloom seeds, like tried-and-true growing practices, have been passed down by gardeners for generations. Today, their popularity is growing, but heirloom varieties are generally not grown commercially. The definition presumes it is a valuable cultivar whose loss would be mourned, due to its unique traits or value to the gene pool.

So many varieties have been lost that the definition would cover nearly every old seed still in existence. A research group studied the U.S. Department of Agriculture's variety listings in 1903 and 1983, and charted a loss of 93% of vegetable and fruit varieties over that time.

Today, old varieties are prized for their uniqueness, their beauty, and for the simple fact that you can save their seeds and grow the same variety next year – something that is not possible with many commercial hybrids.

Try these popular, time-tested heirloom vegetables in your garden this year:

Brandywine Tomato

Large, juicy beefsteak variety prized for flavor. Pink, red, or yellow, depending on the strain. Thin skin, mildly acidic, needs a fairly long season.

Lacinato Kale

Also known as Tuscan or Dinosaur kale. Spear-shaped, dark green leaves grow to 12 inches, not the ruffled fan type of other kales. Compact plants are long-season producers. Strip ribs away and chop into hearty soups and stir-fries.

Rainbow Chard

Also called Five-colored Silverbeet or Bright Lights Swiss chard. Stems come in red, pink, yellow, orange and white, with green leafy tops. From the beet family, but without a bulbous root. Winter star in mild climates. Young leaves transform a salad, mature leaves and stems sizzle in the wok.

Speckled Lettuce

Beautiful variety with sprays of maroon dotting its ruffled green leaves. Forms loose heads of tender, buttery leaves. Resists bolting (going to seed), providing a longer productive season.

Tromboncino Squash

Distinctive long, curved squash with a bell end. Can be quite curled into a circle or grow straighter if on a trellis. A rampicante (climbing) variety that really grabs a trellis. Tender, mild, tan flesh, good fresh but can hold into fall for baking.

 

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