As heirloom vegetables have become more popular, a few varieties have become stand-outs. 'Brandywine' tomatoes, for example, have become well-known among gardeners and they even appear in increasing numbers at farmer's markets and some grocery stores. The 'Moon and Stars' watermelon has similarly grabbed considerable attention. There are other celebrity heirlooms as well, such as blue potatoes and certain dry beans. Such vegetable superstars are, at least for now, still the exception. Many other fne heirlooms are becoming increasingly rare, and are at risk of disappearing entirely from the seed trade.
So why should anybody notice that some old vegetable varieties may go the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon? There are several reasons. Gardeners who know about the marvelous flavors and other fine qualities of the best of the heirlooms want to preserve them. So do historians who appreciate heirlooms as windows to the past and cultural artifacts. And there are growing numbers of gardeners who are concerned about genetic erosion. As old varieties disappear, the unique genes coded in their DNA are lost forever. Since nobody knows which of these old vegetable varieties might carry a trait that may prove very important in the future, gardeners interested in preserving genetic diversity are working on preserving as many heirlooms as they can.
When I put together this list of heirlooms, I had several goals in mind:
There are, of course, countless other heirlooms that need to be preserved. The following suggestions are in no way intended to suggest that gardeners should not also plant other heirlooms or that these varieties are in greater need than some others. And finally, although I've had good experiences purchasing seeds from most of the sources listed, I list them here only to make it easier for you to find seeds. I offer no guarantees about them. There are other fine seed companies that offer heirloom seeds.More Heirlooms, Part 2 ->