They seem to be all the rage with foodies these days, but what exactly is an heirloom vegetable?
There are several schools of thought on the precise definition, but basically an heirloom veggie is one that was grown a long time ago, and has not been modified to use in modern, large scale agriculture.
Take these pictures of tomatoes. You can see the different colors and shapes, which are generally not sold in supermarkets today. Why?
Most stores want perfect, round, red tomatoes to meet consumer demand. The tomatoes need to be able to ripen in a truck that will often sit for weeks or months at a time. They are grown in huge fields in monocultural (only one type) plots. Because of this, tomatoes (and other vegetables) have been hybridized and chosen for specific characteristics such as productivity, resistance to pesticides, and the ability to put up with mechanical pickers.
Notice, they are not necessarily grown for taste.
And this is why people grow heirlooms. The shapes and colors are strange, they might not last for weeks and weeks in your fridge, but you can not beat the taste of an heirloom veggie straight out of your garden. Purple carrots, pink tomatoes, blue pumpkins–you wouldn’t believe the huge variety that are now available that are dedicated to bringing back taste to people’s gardens.
You often need to grow heirloom varieties from seed–which is part of their charm. Just think about growing a pepper that has been lovingly passed down through generations. There are many sources for heirloom vegetable seeds–and sometimes the best source is talking to gardeners you know!
Pioneer has many heirloom seed varieties at the store--why don't you start your own heirloom garden?