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Understanding Heirloom Vegetables

March 4, 2013

This is a repost from  American trends

A report from #gardenchat featuring Chris McLaughlin, Author of  ”The Complete Idiots Guide to Heirloom Vegetables”

By Yolanda Vanveen

The term “heirloom” has always confused me. What determines if a plant is considered an heirloom or not?  In the cut flower business most blooms are from hybrids so that is the world I have known. My grandfather Opa Johannes was a cyclamen hybridizer and my family grew cut flowers so I understand how plants are crossed to create new varieties.  There are very few heirloom cut flowers available.

In the past when I have selected vegetable seeds I have never paid attention to variety or look for an heirloom label.  I just knew I wanted tomatoes, corn, lettuce, peas, carrots, garlic and green onions. I never considered that some varieties are hybrid and some are heirloom and that makes all the difference in the vegetable world.  Gardeners have realized that the heirlooms are the better choice because they usually give you the best results.

That is why when I heard that heirloom vegetables were the topic of #gardenchat on Twitter I made sure not to miss it.  The host was Chris McLaughlin author of  The Complete Idiots Guide to Heirloom Vegetables.  Here are some of the best tweets on heirloom vegetables from #gardenchat:


There is no *official* definition – generally an open-pollinated variety that has been handed down through generations at least fifty years that does not have a patent on it.   Some heirlooms are plants that crossed naturally without human assistance more than fifty years ago.


The term “heirloom” wasn’t even used until the 1980s! Before that it was just the food we grew.


Hybrid = two different varieties crossed = doesn’t produce seed true to the parents.


Open-pollinated plants that have adapted to their region are called “landraces.”


Heirlooms are naturally resistant to lots of pests and diseases, if you take good care of your soil.



Plant heirlooms with flowers that repel insects and plant consistently. For example, Marigolds are great vegetable companion plants and should be planted for a few years in a row for the bug repellant to build up in the soil.


Flowers, trees and bushes that are more than fifty years old are heirloom as long as not patented just like vegetables.


Seed banks are genetic vaults that preserve plant genetic diversity. You can create your own seed bank.


Variety of looks, flavor, growing habit, taste; better for species, better for planet, and better for your soul.


An “heirloom” is passed down because its proven to be a great food staple for whatever reason. Thats why it is handed down.

Vegetable diversity in the garden protects food crops from being wiped out by a single pest or disease. Planting different heirlooms together in the same bed gives you the best results.


F1 means the first generation of plants created by crossing two different varieties. F2 is the next generation.


Heirlooms are open-pollinated and not hybridized in a laboratory

They have been around for more than fifty years

Studies have found that they have more nutritional value than hybrids

Because of their genetic diversity, they are stronger plants

They are generally more pest & disease resistant

Heirlooms are special because they connect us with history. It is nice to know that the Brandy Wine tomato in my garden is the same variety that my great grandfather grew and tastes just as nice one hundred years later.

New media is changing the way we learn about plants and gardening.  In one hour of #gardenchat on Twitter I felt as though I learned more than I could have if I had taken an all day class.  Hundreds of tweets in a quick hour.  I have found by retweeting the important points it is easy to summarize the discussion and not get overwhelmed with the information.

Thanks to Chris McLaughlin,  of and author of  The Complete Idiots Guide to Heirloom Vegetables

Brenda Haas of BG Garden

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