How To – Understanding and Growing Heirloom Vegetables

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    There are a number of different vegetables that are available from seed companies in Heirloom variety. For most of us we just want a plant that will grow well, taste good and not need a lot of work. If you are one of these people then heirloom variety plants may not be your best bet however if you crave the taste of tomatoes of your youth or those great cucumbers that your grandpa useto grow then heirloom vegetables can be an added value to your garden.

    The first thing you should understand about the difference between Heirloom and Hybrid vegetables is that Hybrid seeds and starter plants are provided to growers for a single season. This means you probably won’t get the same type of tomato if you save seeds from a hybrid fruit or plant.

    The next thing you need to know is that Hybrid plants have a higher resistance to growing problems. This includes resistance to pests, temporary dry spurts and other problems that a heirloom plant won’t survive. If you are a beginner gardener or someone that feels they don’t have a green thumb but still wants some tomatoes for the table then pick a Hybrid variety plant.

    Finally Heirloom plants and seeds almost always cost more because the seeds are often hand gathered and the seeds from your plants or tomatoes can be saved for the next season. If you want to grow tomatoes from seeds you save from your plants then pick a heirloom variety tomato.

    Pollination distances for Heirloom Vegetables

    When you are growing heirloom vegetables you need to protect them from cross pollination

    Beans, peas and peanuts, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are usually self-pollinating. Insects occasionally cross them, so plant them with at least 10 feet between varieties.

    Vegetables that are cross-pollinated by insects or by wind need to be isolated or raised at a considerable distance from other varieties. This distance may need to be several hundred yards or more, depending on the crop. Onions, cucumbers, corn, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, beets, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, melons, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips are all insect-or wind-pollinated. In a small garden, the easiest way to ensure purity is to grow not more than one variety of a species at a time. If your goal in raising an heirloom variety is to preserve it, you do not want it to cross with something else.

     

    Heirloom Vegetable Seed Collection and Storage

    Allow seeds to ripen fully before they are harvested. Mature seeds are more likely to grow well than seeds harvested too soon. Strong, healthy plants produce healthier seeds than seed from weak, stressed plants.

    Most vegetable seeds remain viable for three to five years when stored properly. Place thoroughly dry seed in a tightly closed glass jar and keep the jar in a cool dry location. Put silica gel packets in with the seed to help keep it dry. You can add diatomaceous earth to seed to help prevent insect damage. Store seed in the refrigerator to further increase its life expectancy. To test for germination, sprout seeds between moist paper towels; if germination is low, either discard the seeds or plant extra to give the desirable number of plants.

    Long-lived seeds include beets; all cabbage relatives such as broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and kale; cucumber; lettuce; melons; peppers; sunflower; tomato; and turnip. If you keep them cool and dry, these seeds should maintain good viability for five years or more.

    Medium-lived seeds include beans, carrot, chard, eggplant, parsley, peas, pumpkin and squash. These, properly stored, should last at least three years.

    Short-lived seeds can only be depended on to last to the next growing season. This list includes corn, leek, onion and spinach seed.

     

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