What draws many of my customers to heirlooms is flavor. They want a tomato that tastes like a real tomato, not a plastic one. They long for corn that tastes like it did when they were a kid. They search for a sweet, juicy muskmelon, and wonder why cantaloupes are crisp and dry. After trying varieties that look good on the pages of seed catalogs but just don't taste like much, they turn to heirlooms.
What they find may well be something of a mixed bag. The best of the heirlooms
really are wonderful. They have it all. They taste wonderful and look beautiful. No doubt about it, these varieties are terrific. There
are, however, varieties that take a more experienced hand to grow well. Some
are local or regional varieties that may or may not be suited to conditions in
your back yard. Others are susceptible to problems unknown to earlier
gardeners. Today, certain plant problems are much more common than ever before,
and new, resistant cultivars may be the only ones suited to areas where certain
diseases and pests are entrenched. Most of this is because since 1932, the American farmer has depleted the soil of it's major nutrients. Everything introduced to the soil is chemically enhanced or man-made. This is not good. Micro-nutrients are no longer available in the final product. Only through building up the soil naturally, will we bring those micro-nutrients back into our diet. These micro-nutrients feed the living cells in our bodies and we need them! Building the soil and heirloom varieties are a great start to a healthy renewal.
Nonetheless, heirloom vegetables can be quirky. Seeds may germinate slower than their modern
counterparts, or they may straggle in erratically. Some may pop up after you've
given up on them. As they grow, some heirlooms have traits that are downright odd. Other old varieties will do weird things. Unfortunately, information about such traits is difficult to find. About all
growers can do is wait to see what happens, relying on their best instincts and experience.
With all of that considered, I really enjoy growing heirlooms because I actually have something that my ancestors grew. This it what makes it so exciting for me. Now, after many years, I actually have my hands in the soil my grandfathers worked. I have a piece of my own heritage. This is what makes my job so much fun and so rewarding!