Are all heirlooms open-pollinated varieties? Will my Brandywine (heirloom) tomato cross-breed with my roma? If my hot peppers are planted next to my sweet bells, will I get a hot bell pepper?
The authors of the article below and of Saving Seeds both seem to conclude that varieties among peppers are more readily cross-pollinated than varieties among tomatoes. They advise an ideal separation of 1/4 acre between varieties, but home gardeners might get away with 10 feet of separation. This seems to rule out small gardeners who want to do their thing to preserve genetic diversity! Unless, of course, you're willing to cover each plant and do some hand polinating.
See Seed Favorites for Planter's experience with individual seed varieties.
Source: Heirloom Vegetables HOME & GARDEN INFORMATION
CENTER, 1-888-656-9988, HGIC 1255
Prepared by Karen Russ, HGIC Information Specialist, and David Bradshaw,
Extension Horticulture Specialist, Clemson University
Heirloom vegetables are defined in several ways. Some consider heirlooms to be any vegetable cultivars that have been grown for a certain length of time. Other people consider vegetables to be truly heirlooms only if being passed down by a family or group has preserved them. Heirlooms are always open-pollinated, since hybrid seed can not be maintained by ordinary means. However heirloom vegetables are defined, interest is increasing in our edible heritage.
WHY GROW HEIRLOOMS
One reason to grow heirloom vegetables is simply that they are a taste of the past. Many varieties, which had been prized and maintained for
generations, have been lost in recent decades as fewer people save seed year to year. For many gardeners, saving an heirloom cultivar is a
connection to their heritage.
Many gardeners grow heirlooms that have superior flavor. Heirloom varieties that have been selected for taste and tenderness through several
generations are often tastier than cultivars that have been selected for ease of shipping, uniform appearance or ability to grow well throughout
When gardeners save the seed of the best-tasting, best-performing plants in their gardens each year for a number of years, they gradually select their own special cultivars. Those selections will be suited to their own growing conditions and tastes. Open-pollinated seed that has been grown and harvested for generations in a region or microclimate becomes adapted to that areas soil, climate and pests.
Many people grow and save old cultivars because they save a lot of money by avoiding the purchase of new and expensive hybrid seed each year. Hybrid seed will not produce similar plants when saved from year to year. Another vital reason to maintain heirlooms is to keep their genetic traits for future use. When old varieties of food crops are not maintained, the gene pool grows smaller and smaller. This may lead to increased disease and pest problems.
If you grow heirloom vegetables, you will almost certainly save seed. More and more companies are beginning to carry old cultivars in their seed list, but most heirloom gardeners want to ensure their seed supply against changes in fashion. Many also feel that saving their own seed gives them more connection to the entire process of growth and regeneration.
Do not try to save seed from hybrid vegetables. It will not produce plants the same as those from which it is collected. Saving seed can duplicate open-pollinated cultivars, if the crop is not allowed to cross with other strains of related vegetables.
There are several ways that home gardeners can maintain their seed stock without unwanted crossing. Some vegetables are mainly self-pollinating; their seeds will produce plants like the parent plant that produced the seeds. Beans, peas and peanuts, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are usually self-pollinating. Insects occasionally cross them, so plant them with at least 10 feet between varieties.
Beans and tomatoes are very popular as heirloom vegetables partly because they are easily maintained true to type. Vegetables that are cross-pollinated by insects or by wind need to be isolated or raised at a considerable distance from other varieties. This distance may need to be several hundred yards or more, depending on the crop.
Onions, cucumbers, corn, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, beets, carrots, cabbage,
cauliflower, melons, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and
turnips are all insect-or wind-pollinated. In a small garden, the easiest way to ensure purity is to grow not more than one variety of a species at
a time. If your goal in raising an heirloom variety is to preserve it, you do not want it to cross with something else.
One way to isolate cultivars is to grow them in separate screened cages, or to cover individual flowers with bags and hand-pollinate them. Another method is called time isolation. Time plantings so that different varieties are not flowering at the same time and so cannot pollinate each other.
Choose plants to save seed from before you harvest the rest of the crop to eat. You should choose the healthiest, most productive and most flavorful plants to save for seed. Make sure that you label them clearly for seed to avoid temptation.
Allow seeds to ripen fully before they are harvested. Mature seeds are more likely to grow well than seeds harvested too soon. Strong, healthy
plants produce healthier seeds than seed from weak, stressed plants.
Warm, dry conditions while seed matures increases their storage life. It is best to
harvest your seeds and bring them inside for final drying as
soon as they are fully mature and dry, especially if rains threaten Most vegetable seeds remain viable for three to five years when stored
properly. Place thoroughly dry seed in a tightly closed glass jar and keep the jar in a cool dry location. Put silica gel packets in with the seed to
help keep it dry. You can add diatomaceous earth to seed to help preventinsect damage. Store seed in the refrigerator to further increase its life expectancy.
To test for germination, sprout seeds between moist paper towels; if germination is
low, either discard the seeds or plant extra to
give the desirable number of plants.
Long-lived seeds include beets; all cabbage relatives such as broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and kale; cucumber; lettuce; melons; peppers;
sunflower; tomato; and turnip. If you keep them cool and dry, these seeds should maintain good viability for five years or more.
Medium-lived seeds include beans, carrot, chard, eggplant, parsley, peas, pumpkin and squash. These, properly stored, should last at least three years.
Short-lived seeds can only be depended on to last to the next growing season. This list includes corn, leek, onion and spinach seed.
HEIRLOOM VEGETABLE CULTIVARS
Beans of all kinds are very popular heirloom vegetables. There arethousand of cultivars, with huge variations in taste, size, color and
markings, and climate adaptability.
Beans are usually not cross-pollinated. Separate plantings by enough distance to avoid having their vines intertwine. Allow the seed to
thoroughly mature on the vine. Pull the entire plant and place it in the shade to dry out for one to two weeks. Bring inside to finish drying if
rain threatens. Shell and store in a cool, dry area in a paper bag. Bean and cowpea seeds will keep for three or more years.
Lima and Butter Beans
Christmas Lima does well in hot, humid climates. Climbing vines produce large seeds that are white with maroon streaks and have a wonderful flavor.
Snow on the Mountain is a beautiful, heavy-producing pole lima from
the 1800s. It has deep maroon seeds with white markings.
Jackson Wonder Bush is a productive and drought-tolerant 1880s vintage heirloom from Georgia. Purple and black mottling. 66 days.
Pole, Snap And Dry Beans
Cherokee Trail of Tears Pole These heirloom pole beans were carried by Cherokee Indians on the "Trail of Tears." Purple-striped pods with
shiny black seeds.
Greasy Cutshort Pole has leaves that are shiny, giving a greasy appearance. Good eaten as snap beans.
Jacobs Cattle is a small, pretty bean, pure-white with deep maroon splashes. Excellent quality for baking and soups.
Rattlesnake Pole has purple-streaked 7-inch green pods that curl like snake. The buff-colored beans with black stripes are good as
shell beans or snaps. Vines grow 10 feet tall.
Tongues of Fire is an early snap bean with beige and brown markings. Excellent flavor.
All corn is wind-pollinated and will readily cross with other varieties. Varieties should be widely separated, from 600 feet to over half a mile to
ensure purity. You can also save seed by bagging the ears that you want tosave for seed and hand-pollinating them, or by growing cultivars that will be separated by blooming time. You should always grow at least 200 corn plants in a large block when saving seed. Save seed from 50 ears of different plants to reduce inbreeding depression. Let the seed dry thoroughly on the plant and then dry further once husked. Seed lasts only one year.
Golden Bantam was first introduced in 1902. This is the corn all others were compared to.
Country Gentleman is a popular old-fashioned shoe peg variety with irregularly spaced white kernels.
Stowells Evergreen was the standard, late-season white sweet corn before Silver Queen. Ears are 8 to 9 inches long.
Bloody Butcher is a flint corn used for flour-making or decoration. The ears are bright red.
Strawberry Popcorn an old variety, grows 2-to 3- inch ears that are excellent for decorations in the fall, then popping in the winter.
There are many different forms of cucumbers that are rarely seen in stores. Cucumbers are cross-pollinated by insects. So if you want to save
cucumber seed, plant only one variety. Let the fruits hang on the vine until ripe (skin becomes yellowish and hard). Then handle like the process for tomatoes given below.
Lemon produces many lemon-colored and lemon-shaped fruit on fast-growing vines.
White Wonder is an old variety that matures to an ivory white color. The 7-inch fruit are easy see at harvest.
Cut off seed stalks when fluffy in appearance, just before all the seeds are completely dried. Seeds will fall off the stalk and be lost if
allowed to mature on the plant.
Deer Tongue is a pre-1900 heirloom that is named for its pointed leaves and thick mid-rib. It is heat-tolerant and slow-bolting.
Tennis-ball was a very popular lettuce in the vegetable garden at Monticello. Tennis-ball lettuce has been grown since the late 18th
century, and it is the parent of Boston lettuce types.
Treat melons in the same way as cucumbers.
Jenny Lind grows to 1 to 2 pounds with sweet, lime-green flesh. An heirloom from New Jersey, it was named in 1846.
Hearts of Gold is a very popular old-timer. The 3-pound melons have thick, fine-grained flesh with spicy flavor. Flesh is salmon-orange in
Potatoes are popular heirloom vegetables. There are many unusual colors, shapes and flavors that are seldom found at the grocery store. Heirloom potatoes are saved from year to year as tubers, and so are very easy to maintain true to name.
Russian Banana is a fingerling potato that is yellow-fleshed with a pleasantly waxy texture. It varies from finger-size up to the size of
an actual banana.
Yellow Finns are medium-size, with yellow skin and yellow flesh.
Ruby Crescent Fingerling has small tubers between 2 and 6 inches long. Ruby-red skin covers deep yellow flesh.
Okra pods should be left on the stalk until brown and well-matured. Remove the pods and place them in the shade until thoroughly dried. It is best to store okra seed in the pod until ready for planting.
Longhorn has long pods that are tender up to 6 or 8 inches long. It
dates from the 1880s.
Peppers, Sweet and Chili
Peppers are usually self-pollinating. Insect cross-pollination does occur sometimes, and if it does, hot bell peppers can result, since the gene for hotness is dominant. If grown closer than 500 feet apart, plants must be caged or bagged to prevent spicy surprises in future years.
Peppers should be allowed to ripen until they become red. Cut the pepper pod in half and scrape the seed onto a piece of paper. Spread out the seed and dry thoroughly before placing in a storage container. Wash your hands thoroughly with soapy water after harvesting the pepper seeds, since the residues will burn eyes and lips for hours after contact.
Southern Peas or Cowpeas
Southern peas are handled in the same way as beans.
Calico Crowder is a medium-sized, heirloom, climbing crowder pea, white with maroon splotches, good fresh or dried. 70 days.
Kreutzer is an excellent cowpea which produces quantities of attractive beige-and-brown cowpeas with darker-brown specks.
Pink-Eye Purple-Hull has cream-colored seeds with maroon eyes in pods which turn purple at maturity. Vigorous, heat-loving and
drought-tolerant plants with little vining.
Washday is so named because they cooked up fast on busy washdays. This tan-yellow variety is a good yielder that makes a tasty soup. It
is a half-runner type from the 1800s.
Squash and Pumpkins
Winter and summer squash and pumpkins are all related. Crossing readily occurs between varieties of the same species. No crossing occurs between different species. Grow only one variety of the same species, andseparate by ½ mile or hand pollinate to maintain purity. The commonly grown species are: banana, buttercup, cushaw and hubbard squash (Cucurbita maxima); butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata); acorn, crookneck, and scallop squash, zucchinis and most pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo); and Mexican gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia).
When the outer covering of the squash is so hard that it cannot be dented with your fingernail, the seeds are generally mature. Split the squash
fruit open, scoop out the seed and wash until all pulp is removed. Spread out on newspaper to dry.
Cushaw Green-Striped Squash (C. mixta) has good-sized white fruits with green stripes and long, curved necks. It is good for pies and
baking. Drought-tolerant and a good keeper.
Pumpkins and Related Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
Rouge Vif dEtampes is also known as the Cinderella pumpkin. This French heirloom pumpkin is productive and beautiful. The fruits are
flat, burnt orange to red, and deeply ridged, ranging from 1 to 2 feet across.
Connecticut Field is an old standard in field pumpkins. Large 20 to 35 pounds.
Small Sugar is a sweet, tasty pumpkin to 9 inches across, on short, space-saving vines.
The Amish Paste is holding up better than our hybrid Romas under this type of stress, though the yield is definitely less.
Tomatoes are self-pollinators and are usually not cross-pollinated. Only the potato leaf varieties must be separated. Pick fruit from desirable plants when ripe. Cut fruit and squeeze out pulp into a container. Add a little water and let ferment two to four days at room temperature, stirring occasionally. When seeds settle out, pour off pulp and spread seeds in a thin layer to dry thoroughly. Store in an envelope or glass jar in a cool, dry place. Properly stored seeds will remain viable for four to 10 years.
Brandywine is the most famous heirloom tomato. This Amish heirloom originated in Chester County, PA, in 1885. The flavor and texture are superb. Fruit quality stays high late in the season. The plant often appears disease-resistant. This "potato-leaf" variety makes a half to a pound pinkish-red fruits.
Cherokee Purple is one of the most widely adapted of the "purple" or "black" tomatoes. The flesh inside is brick red and soft, and it has
good flavor. Pinkish-brownish-purplish delicious fruits on indeterminate vines.
Georgia Streak is a yellow and red beefsteak indeterminate heirloom from Georgia. Makes great-looking slices for summer salads.
Yellow Pear has prolific vines that produce loads of 1- to 2- inch pear-shaped fruits with good flavor.
Arkansas Traveler produces medium-sized, dark-pink tomatoes on heat-tolerant vines.
Mortgage Lifter produces pink to red, medium-sized to large fruit. Also called Radiator Charlies Mortgage Lifter.
Moon & Stars is another heirloom from the Amish. These 15- to 30- pounds melons have sweet red-pink flesh. The dark green rind is
covered with bright yellow spots. The leaves of the plants are also spotted.
Clemson University Cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture, South Carolina Counties, Extension Service, Clemson, South Carolina,