How to Grow Organic Heirloom Vegetables
Those tomatoes, potatoes and carrots you see in the grocery all look relatively the same. The tomatoes are always red, round and shiny, and the carrots orange. These vegetables did not always look like this. There are hundreds of different varieties of these vegetables being grown around the world that you may have never even seen or heard of.
Heritage varieties of vegetables (also referred to as heirloom vegetables) are those varieties, which have been openly pollinated and have existed for more than fifty years. If you have ever gone to a local farmers market with a variety of organic produce available, you may have seen green and pink tomatoes or purple carrots. These strange and interesting varieties on your old favourites are heritage vegetables.
Colorful Heirloom Vegetables
Heritage carrots may be purple, pink or even black. Heritage tomatoes can be as small as peas or as big as melons, they can be green and pink, striped or purple and red or even shaped like bananas. Heritage potatoes can be purple, red or pink, large or small and long or round. The variety in flavour, size and color means a healthy combination of vitamins and minerals and more excitement for your dinner table. Your children will love these fun vegetables as much as you do.
Heritage Vegetables Provide Important Vitamins
A balanced diet consists of an ever-changing variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains. Eating carrots every day is healthy, but carrots contain only some of the many vitamins and minerals necessary to your health. Expanding your palate and your table to include a rich variety of colors and flavors is beneficial to the health of your body and mind.
The color of a vegetable means something more than what it looks like. The colors of vegetables are affected by the vitamins and minerals contained therein. Having a literally colorful diet is important for your health. A blueberry and a purple carrot both provide your body with antioxidants, blueberries are in anthocyanin pigments which are powerful antioxidants. And carrots contain carotenoid pigments, the darker the color of a carrot means that this carrot contains a higher concentration of carotenoids than say, an orange carrot.
Short History of Heirloom Vegetables
Over the last one hundred years, seed diversity has been shrinking. Plants have been bred for their disease resistance, shelf life, and ability to travel. This is the equivalent of in-breeding your vegetables. Heritage vegetable varieties have withstood this narrowing and contaminating of vegetable varieties.
With the development of supermarkets, and the large industrial farm, the acts of growing and eating have changed. You may live hundreds of miles from the farm on which your produce was grown. The tomato or carrot you are eating had to be bred to travel in a truck, to then sit on a shelf for a long time. One hundred years ago these factors were not a concern. Heritage vegetables do not travel or sit well. If you are eating heritage vegetables, chances are they are local.
One hundred years ago, people saved their own seeds from year to year and used them every season. It is a recent development that people have begun buying seeds from catalogues. Because these seed companies are few and far between, the variety of seeds they have to offer is rare. Many farmers are buying from a small pool of seeds.
Heirloom Vegetables are Easy to Grow and Delicious
Heritage vegetable varieties are numerous, and have often been passed down through generations of small family farmers. These varieties come from a time before commercial farming and before supermarkets. These vegetables were grown for their nutrition and flavor, not for their looks.
Because heritage vegetables have been unaffected by the commercial farming industry, they are healthier, prettier and tastier than any vegetables grown on a large industrial farm. This is why heritage vegetables are also often organic. Organic farmers share a concern over the shrinking diversity of seed varieties and strive to keep alive these excellent strains of vegetables.
Plant Diversity is Good for Your Vegetable Garden
Heritage vegetables are like antiques. These are vegetables from a time when farming was done with more love and care than today. By planting heritage vegetables people are keeping alive a memory of a nation of small family farms, from a time when people could support themselves on their own land and eat their own delicious home grown organic food.
As diversity narrows, plants can become endangered. As we lose plant diversity, we also lose plant resistance to natural predators. With a wide variety of one type of vegetable, there is always another to take the place of the one that becomes extinct. As plants are bred over and over again, they may become weaker. Growing heritage vegetables increases the likelihood of disease and pest resistance in the future.
If you decide to grow heritage vegetables in your own garden, you are not only benefiting the health and well-being of yourself and your family, but increasing plant diversity, preserving an important aspect of our national culture and saving the very vegetable that you are growing from extinction.