Reasons for Growing Heirloom Plants

Heirloom tomatoes picked fresh from the garden
Sherry Galey / Getty Images

Heirloom plants are becoming more and more popular among home gardeners. There are many reasons to try growing heirlooms, and it's a hobby that can quickly become addictive.

What is an Heirloom Plant?

While some people try to define “heirloom” by age, such as saying that any plant that originated before 1951 (after which hybridization became popular) is an heirloom, the most widely accepted definition of what constitutes an heirloom is that it is open-pollinated and was grown in an earlier era. Some heirlooms are hundreds of years old, and others originated around the turn of the 20th century.

Why Grow Heirlooms?

Heirloom plants have a large following among home gardeners and organic gardeners in particular. Some of the most common reasons for growing heirlooms are:

  • Wider Variety: When you have access to plants that were grown by previous generations, you also get to experience the thrill of having a huge variety of plants available to you. For example, the Seed Savers Exchange, which deals solely in heirlooms, has 77 varieties of tomatoes in this year's catalog. Unless you have acreage, it would take years just to try them all. And among those 77 varieties are every color, size, and flavor of tomato imaginable.
  • Better Flavor: In many cases, hybridizers have chosen properties like disease resistance and heavy yields over flavor. Fans of heirlooms will argue that many of the best-tasting crops come from heirloom plants.
  • Biogenetic Diversity: Plant species are dying out at an alarming weight. Heirloom gardeners, through growing and saving seeds of treasured crops, are ensuring that these plants won't become extinct. In addition, keeping diversity in our food chain protects us against large plagues or crop failures.
  • Frugality: Growing heirlooms is a frugal way to have a bountiful garden. Each season, you can grow the crop, harvest the food, save the seeds, and store them to grow next year's garden. If you save a lot of seed, you can even get involved in seed exchanges with other heirloom gardeners to get more diversity in your garden.

Growing heirlooms is a fun, educational experience that every organic gardener can try. Just don't be surprised if you become hooked on heirlooms!

Edited by Angela England