So what did I learn? I found out that they're old varieties of our common garden vegetables that have been passed down from posterity. Many of them are disappearing, being out-competed by hybrid seeds from big seed companies. Heirlooms have been selected not for shipping or storage potential, but for delicious taste. There are so many beautiful, strange, or colourful varieties. I can't wait to try them!
I've ordered seed packs online from The Cottage Gardener, a local Ontario farm which sells a wide & tantalizing variety of heirlooms.
Here is what I'm growing:
- Colourful Carrot Mix (purple, yellow, white, and red - how cool is that?)
- Cosmonaut Volkov & Jaune Flammee Tomatoes (both varieties are indeterminate - i.e. vining, and the crazy Maddster is trying to grow them in pots, albeit big ones. I forsee vigilant pruning in my future.)
- Five-colour Silverbeet Swiss Chard (multicoloured stems, need I say more?)
- Chioggia Beets (concentric rings of red and white)
- "Dinosaur" Kale (ends up looking something like a palm tree with beautifully textured leaves)
- Plum Purple Radishes
- Table Bush Queen Squash (an experiment - I do grow squash just for the heck of it. Hopefully the "bush" habit means it won't take over the world!)
- Leaf Lettuce Mix (several different and interesting varieties)
- Tendergreen Bush Bean (supposed to have great flavour)
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Picotee Cosmos (gorgeous cosmos variety with pink-edged white petals)
- Blue Breadseed Poppy (a blue poppy? that produces seeds for my homemade bread? I'll bite!)
- Globe Amaranth (a pretty annual with a long bloom time and clover-shaped pink/white/bronze flowers)
I've read up on growing a veggie garden, and on heirlooms, and this spring I'm going to put what I've gleaned into practice. In a few days I'll start my first seeds - tomatoes and perhaps some kale - in the basement under grow lights.
The catalogue pictures sure look amazing - we'll see how the real plants do in my in some ways less-than-ideal city garden under my less-than-expert care. I'm sure not everything will thrive, but it seems to me that gardening is often an somewhat experimental - try it and see if it will work.
One thing's for sure - these plants won't lack care on my part!