By Robert Hofffman, guest columnist
With the looming spring season and warm weather, many residents feel the urge to plant a garden. Although gardeners can pick the standard vegetables sold at local stores, still many wish to plant unique varieties that have unique shapes and different tastes. Rather than following ordinary gardener’s recommendations, why not consider planting open pollinated heirloom varieties of vegetables?
Growers all over the world state that heirloom, open pollinated vegetables taste truly superior to standard ones bought in a grocery store. Furthermore, some evidence exists that these varieties may have higher nutritional values than typical ones found at markets. In addition, they show more stability each generation growers plant them, an added benefit to those who save seeds.
Most open pollinated and heirloom vegetables respond well to organic cultivation methods. Gardeners should build their soils with compost, lime, and other amendments, such as bone meal, blood meal, and colloidal phosphate. In east Texas, late March represents a good planting time to avoid late frost.
Tomatoes — Beefsteak ranks as one of the best open pollinated varieties for home use. Unlike the cardboard tasting ones sold at stores, this variety produces large, delicious, meaty tomatoes. It produces above average yields and has excellent disease resistance.
Peppers — California Wonder yields average size bell peppers late in the year. They will turn red and taste sweeter if left on the plant until late summer and early fall season. Corbaci peppers, that produce an overwhelming amount each season, provide abundant long, thin peppers that taste mild. Growers can dry them to make an Italian like spice.
Watermelons — Moon and Stars watermelon has splotches of yellow on the dark, green fruit that makes it look like a photo of the universe! Grown by the Amish for many years, this variety has sweet, crisp flesh and good, tasty flavor.
Melons — Ginger’s Pride cantaloupe, a melon that grows to 5-10 lbs. has an old time melon taste. The skin has a mild, green color, but turns yellow when ripening, and the flesh tastes sweet and has a melting texture.
Squash — Yellow Straightneck and Crookneck still give gardeners a delicious variety to use in meals. They both produce good yields and respond well to organic growing methods. For winter squash, growers may wish to try Burgess Buttercup, a variety that produces round, delicious fruit.
Cucumbers — Early Fortune, a long time standard, still performs well in the east Texas area. It gives good yields of medium size fruits that growers can eat fresh or pickle.
Notwithstanding all of the wonderful attributes, one major benefit of planting open pollinated and heirloom vegetables would include saving the seeds. Growers can dry the seeds each year and reuse them in future gardening. They will see that their seeds sprout faster and resist disease better in each subsequent generation.
Plant a garden today! Not an ordinary garden, but a heirloom one!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange