by Michelle Provaznik, Director, Gardens on Spring Creek
Summer is almost officially here! With the crazy weather we’ve had this spring, many gardeners have been eager to plant warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. When planting my vegetable garden, I stick with mostly heirloom seeds and plants.
What are heirloom vegetables? The definition of “heirloom” is still under debate, but most agree that they are old open-pollinated cultivars. Some consider “old” to be 50 or 100 years, or varieties passed down through the generations. Open-pollinated means that seeds created by the plant will remain true to type when saved and planted the following year. Typically, heirlooms are not grown in commercial production due to shipping, shelf life or production issues. However, the beautiful colors and wonderful flavors of heirloom vegetables have resulted in their resurgence among home gardeners.
Tomatoes are the king of heirlooms. I sold more than 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes at farmers’ markets in California. hat is just the tip of the iceberg. The variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors is astounding. Some tried and true favorites include:
- Brandywine is a large beefsteak variety with deep pink skin. One slice is all you need to cover your burger.
- Cherokee Purple is a medium size with wonderful flavor. The tops of the tomato are tinged in purple.
- Amish Paste is a medium size, heart shape tomato. Great for making sauce.
Every year I try something different. Fun ones to try:
- Amana Orange is a large, orange tomato. Very sweet with low acidity – last year this made great mango salsa.
- Taxi is a medium size, yellow variety. Fast to mature and abundant.
- Yellow Pear is a small cherry tomato. This plant is very vigorous and productive. It is usually the first tomato I pop into my mouth each year.
- Black Krim is originally from Russia. This tomato is medium size and deep reddish-brown with green shoulders. It has an intense flavor.
Tomatoes are not the only heirloom vegetable. Others to try include:
- Corno di Toro sweet pepper is a delicious pepper for authentic Italian dishes.
- Jalapeno is the classic spicy pepper used in a variety of dishes and is a prolific producer.
- Rosa Bianca is a traditional, bi-color Italian eggplant with a mild flavor and creamy consistency.
- Walla Walla onions are known for their mild, sweet flavor, but are not good for storage.
- Freckles Romaine lettuce has bright green leaves freckled with red spots – a fun addition to any salad.
These are just a few of my favorites. Our partners at Fort Collins Nursery carry most of these, or head to your garden center of choice and ask what heirloom varieties they would recommend. Happy planting!