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Growing Heirloom Vegetables

There's only one reason needed to try growing heirloom vegetables - Taste. There are thousands of heirloom vegetable varieties available for the home vegetable garden. Heirlooms vegetables became heirlooms because people prized them enough to save seeds. You won't find many of these varieties in your grocery store because they weren't developed for mass production or storage. That's all the more reason to make room for growing some heirloom vegetables in your own vegetable garden.

1. Bean: Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder and Romano

If a vegetable can be popular for hundreds of years and still be grown today when there are hundreds of new introductions each year, it deserves some respect. That's certainly true of this trio of beans. Blue Lake is a particular favorite of mine because it is so prolific and I have limited space. [p]A very popular hybrid of Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder heirloom pole beans is the All America Selections winner 'Kentucky Blue', shown here. 'Kentucky Blue' has some disease resistance and vigor bred into it, but many gardeners still prefer one of its parents. The final taste test is up to you.

2. Cucumber: Lemon Cucumber

Usually yellow cucumbers are a bad thing, but lemon cucumbers are a real gem. Pick them small, about lemon size, and you can eat them like a fruit. The pale yellow skin is thin and the inside flesh is crisp and juicy. They make an excellent edible bowl for salads and an interesting choice for pickles.

3. Eggplant: Violetta di Firenze

Eggplants are stars among heirloom vegetables, because of the variety of size, shape, color and flavor you won't find elsewhere. Violetta di Firenze is a heat lover, but it's worth the extra work. The stunning lavender fruits are striped with creamy white. Picked early, the skin is thin enough to leave unpeeled. The flavor is at its best when given plenty of sun and heat. Violetta di Firenze can be the silver lining of the dog days of August.

4. Garlic: Spanish Roja and Red Toch

If you live where the winters are cold, it's hard to beat the flavor or Spanish Roja. It's a hardneck variety with 6-10 cloves per bulb. Spanish Roja is prized for its taste and it also stores well for up to 6 months. Red Toch is easily one of the best softneck garlics. The large, pink-streaked cloves can be eaten raw, with no unpleasant aftertaste usually associated with garlic. Since garlic isn't grown from seed, you can safely save garlic bulbs to replant each year, without concern for cross pollination.

5. Melon: Moon and Stars Watermelon

Moon & Stars has been called the poster vegetable of heirloom gardening. It is quite an attention getter with its dark green rind speckled with tiny yellow stars and usually at least one larger moon. Even the leaves are dotted with yellow. Inside all of this beauty is wonderful sweet, rich red flesh. These are large melons, about 20-30 pounds apiece, with a sprawling vine to sustain them.

6. Pepper, Hot: Bulgarian Carrot

Bulgarian carrot peppers are in the mid to extreme section of the Scoville Heat Scale, but they have flavor as well as heat. They do somewhat resemble a small carrot, maturing to a bright orange and about 4 inches long. They also have thick, crisp walls that hold up well in cooking.

7. Pepper, Sweet: Jimmy Nardello

This is one of the Italian frying type peppers. The long, slender fruits can easily grow to 8-9 inches. The plants are tall and bushy and may require staking because they produce a large crop. The peppers are extremely sweet when red and nice and tangy when picked green.

8. Radish: Rat Tailed

This radish solves all your radish growing problems. Too woody? Not a problem. Root maggots? Not a problem. Bulbs won't form? Not a problem. 'Rat Tailed' is an edible podded radish. It's grown for it's zesty, crunchy seed pods, that resemble a rat's tail, but taste like a globe radish. The plants love heat and produce pods for 4 weeks or longer. They can be eaten fresh, pickled or even tosses into stir fries and vegetable dishes.

9. Squash: Ronde de Nice

You may think the last thing you need is more zucchini, but Ronde de Nice makes itself useful. It is, in fact, round and it can be picked small enough for single servings. The thin skin is very delicate, which means you won't find it shipped and sold in stores. The flesh is creamy and rich and the bowl shape makes it perfect for stuffing.

10. Tomato: Lillian's Yellow & Brandywine

If it weren't for the incredible flavor of Brandywine tomatoes, I'm not sure there would be that much interest in heirloom vegetables. Brandywines reminded people of what tomatoes used to taste like. I've given them a tie here with Lillian's Yellow, because Miss Lillian wins so many local taste tests. If she can beat out Brandywine, imagine what you're missing.

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