Heirloom Seeds: Not Just Tomatoes
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Virginia Montgomery Heirloom seeds have a very intimate meaning to most. These seeds have been passed down for generations and can often have a meaningful story attached to them. Some are hundreds of years old. When many think of the word heirloom in gardening, they believe that it is just tomatoes; however, it is far more vast than a tomato.
Some believe heirloom seeds are inherently better than others; however, this is just a myth. Heirloom is just meaning it has been around and passed down for a while. Usually, families from the past took their heirloom varieties and continued to pass the seeds down, and thus, an heirloom was born. There are a few varieties that when I think of this my mind immediately goes to, and spoiler alert: they are not tomatoes!
This melon is sold by Baker Creek and is a fan favorite. It is very similar to honeydew and was collected by Joseph Simcox, a botanical explorer who spends his time searching for exotic foods. He sent this melon back and many have loved and passed it around since!
However, the heirloom itself begins in India, where it was originally cultivated. The peoples of the Punjab region love these melons and have grown them for generations.
Chinese Green Noodle Bean
While we do not really have much history, these beans are interesting to look at. They are around 20” long. That is a lot of food! They were imported in from China and are sold by the infamous Baker Creek.
Blue Hubbard Squash
This is a beautiful squash! It is a massive hardy squash and is loved for its long storage life and tasty flesh.
The history is fascinating on this variety. It was originally from the West Indies, but was imported in 1854, and even caused a small amount of drama around who should be credited with the cultivation in America.
This beautiful variety would make a great addition to any garden bed. Just be prepared for the amount of winter squash it will produce for you.
Moon and Stars Watermelon
This happens to be one of my favorite melons for the soul look of it. Well, that and it tastes amazing, too!
The fruit on this vine can reach up to 40 pounds and really the show stopper for me is the vine itself. They are speckled with yellow dots just like the fruit. I love growing this variety because it adds character to my beds.
Butternut – Waltham Squash
I grew this variety a few years ago and ended up with well over 15 fruit off just a single vine! I have been growing these from those seeds since.
Butternut squash is one of my favorites because of just how versatile it truly is. I’ve made everything from baked goods to pasta with it. I look forward to sharing these seeds for years to come with every gardener I know.
Thoughts on heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are to me, the most delicious tomato possible. However, I do believe some varieties are a stretch in terms of heirlooms. Oftentimes, when a big hype word like heirloom is popularized, many people attempt to market using these keywords. While it is a good marketing strategy, one could wonder about the ethicality of doing such.
This singular issue tends to water down the true meaning of heirlooms. How can we distinguish between hybrid varieties that are developed versus a true heirloom?
We see this a lot with newer tomato varieties. When one crosses true heirlooms with another and develops a variety that is stable with breeding, they tend to try and call it an heirloom when in reality it is a hybrid.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with any hybrid varieties of produce and often have their place in the garden but for honest reasons, can we truly call these hybrids true heirlooms after only a few years?
Now, if we use the coined term that it means it is worthy of being passed down, many varieties could be determined to be heirlooms that are called hybrids.
Why seed saving is important
Seed saving plays an important role in sustainable agriculture and food stability. Heirloom varieties are the front runner of this important duty that we as gardeners have.
Seed saving helps develop a stronger variety for the area it is being grown. This helps by reducing the number of pesticides and various other requirements, another variety that is not better adapted may need.
Seed saving also ensures the preservation of heirloom varieties that someone long ago once carefully selected. A variety of shapes and colors of produce adds to a more interesting life.
Open pollination is important to the sustainability of our food growth and modern agriculture; typically they do not focus on this rather than on profit margins. Open pollination is important because it creates a more genetically diverse plant and plus provides a food source to the bees and other pollinators.
We need to be focusing on a more sustainable food growing practice, whether it is through produce or even animal production. Heirloom seeds can be at the forefront of this.
VIRGINIA MONTGOMERY is a writer out of Pensacola Florida, where she is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in English Creative Writing and writing her first book. She is a 4-H alumni and looks forward to when her three children come of age to share her passions with! Her family currently raises Columbian Wyandottes and gardens.
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.