Heirloom Gardening by Linda Pritchard


While growing up in the beautiful hills of Morgan County Ohio  I learned how to live off the land.I was taught how to hunt and how to plant by my parents and my husbands parents .Raising a garden to feed our family was an important addition to our existance. I've grown everything from potatoes to tomatoes but never  thought of growing an heirloom garden. Now that my children are raised and a garden isn't a necessary part of our daily consumption it was time to add a little excitement into the planning of my yearly garden plot.

 For those of us that are tired of the same old garden varieties, next spring you might decide to try HEIRLOOM Gardening. Some of you are asking , "just what is.... or constitutes a seed to be "heirloom"?. There are many definitions but all agree that heirloom seeds are open pollinated. When properly saved they produce the same variety every year. You can't do this with hybrids . The seed produced from these plants are often sterile or start to revert back to the parent plant. Most people seem to agree that the varieties should be at least 50 years old. I know that 18th century reenactors like us, look for the "over 200 year old" varieties. While planting and growing these "heirlooms "we are exploring another trail on our historical journey. Just another way of understanding what the pioneers had to experience and really see and taste the food they raised and enjoyed.

In the short time I have grown these old varieties they have produced well. In comparison to their modern counterparts you just can't beat the taste of the heirlooms. Hybreds have the advantage when it comes to being disease resistant and  the produce is more uniform , but I still prefer the old varieties for the better flavor and historical value.

 Finding heirloom  seeds is easier than one might think. One way is  to have friends save their seeds  and exchange them with you. There are also many seed companies that sell heirloom  seeds and give a nice history of the vegetable or  flowers you want to grow.

Fedco Seeds, P.O. Box 520 Waterville, Me 04903
And the popular Shumways Seed Catalog.
 R. H. Shumway Seedman , PO Box 1 Graniteville, SC 29829-0001 are a couple of great sources.

This year I chose Hickory King Corn and 1741 Cheese pumpkins. Both of these  seeds  were given to me by friends and they are doing GREAT.

Hickory King Corn has been grown for nearly two centuries. In the January ,February 2000 issue of Muzzleloader I first read about Hickory King Corn . The growing season has been perfect in this part of Ohio and our corn has grown to over 13 feet tall .As Brooke and Carol Aldrich  say (  friends who sent us the seeds  )," it  is a sight to behold." We have had folks stop buy to ask, "What's up with the corn?" Up is RIGHT !!!!! It looks as though it is growing right to the sky. One neighbor asked Frank, "How do you keep the deer out of it?" He replied, "No Problem... they can't reach the ears !"
This corn was mostly grown for cornmeal and parching but I have eaten it fresh and I think it is wonderful. Not as sweet as some new varieties but in my opinion  just as good. The main thing is to pick it very young and tender if you are going to eat it roasted or boiled.
The pumpkins aren't ready to harvest yet but are growing quite large.  These 6 to 12 pound wide ribbed flattened tan fruits look like a big wheel of cheese. I had a chance to eat some roasted by an open fire  while primitive camping with friends, Dan Aubuhl and his son Eli. The flavor was sweet and I thought it had a  somewhat nutty flavor. Dan later sent me the seeds I am presently growing.
Info from the Fedco Catalog says the pumpkins are preferred pumpkins for pies . Bright orange meat is course and fibrous but its tender sweetness redeems its textual deficiencies and it does not deserve Hedrick's terse dismissal: "quality poor" Good for baking, deep cavity lend itself to stuffing. This fruit from 1741 is one of the oldest variety cultivated in America.

My Friend Christie Suchora has been doing some heirloom gardening for a few years now. She is growing some fantastic tomatoes.
In a recent letter Christie writes:
These are the two varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I grow. The brandywine is available by seed from just about any source. The Hillbilly that I grow comes from seeds that I have saved from tomatoes acquired locally and are probably originally from the guy in Dover. I have listed the source of the information provided after each description. You may want to check out the link. I found lots of sources from there.
Next year I will be adding some of the Cherokee red and any that I may find that can possibly be traced to 18th Century.


Introduced in 1889 by Johnson and Stokes. Large fruit weighing almost 1 lb. Excellent fresh eating, soft skin easily bruised. Eastern Native Seed Conservancy

Dating to 1885, this heirloom wins most flavor contests.
85 days. This is by far the best known of all heirlooms and for good reason. Everyone who tastes it is enchanted by it's superb flavor. The fruits have a very large beefstake shape and grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. The color is an appetizing shade of red-pink. The fruits set one or two per cluster and ripen late. But at summer's end, Brandywine's qualities really shine when it develops an incredible fine, sweet flavor. Fruits average 1 lb each. W. Burpee Seeds

This outstanding large pink tomato is considered by many to be the best tasting of all. Overall First Place Winner of Kitchen Garden Magazine's country-wide blind taste-testing. While there are many stories about the Amish origins of this tomato, William Woys Weaver has documented this tomato as being introduced in January 1889 by the Philadelphia seed firm of Johnson & Stokes. Thin-skinned fruits can get up to one pound. Produces better in cooler climates. Indeterminate, potato-leafed vine Deep Diversity/Seeds of Change

Hillbilly- One to two pound bi-color. From Glenn A. Lanzer, 1415 North Wooster, Dover, Ohio. 44622. via Mercy Jane Cap. Mercy Cap says Lanzer got it from his Aunt Ruby, who died at 97 Chuck Wyatts Heirloom Tomatoes
Hillbilly Heirloom from the hills of West Virginia. Huge flattened gold-red bicolored tomatoes weigh 1-2 pounds. When sliced, reveals beautiful marbled flesh. Refreshingly mild, delicious flavor described by some as fruity. Indeterminate, 85 days from transplant. Seed Savers Exchange
SSE's main focus is on heirloom varieties that gardeners and farmers brought to North America when their families immigrated, and traditional varieties grown by Native Americans, Mennonites and Amish.

You will find there are many many heirlooms to choose from.Raising heirlooms is an  exciteing and fastening way to grow wonderful food for yourself , your friends ,and your family. But even more important , raising herilooms is a wonderful history lesson.When you participate in growing and saving heirloom seeds you become a part of history. You become a historian.

I often wonder what it was like living in the days when our country was first developed and explored. By doing Heiriloom Gadening we can experience in a small way a bit of real history. Heirlooms ARE living artifacts. Heirloom gardening give us a real window to the past.

Happy Gardening and as always............
Keep On Trekking,
Granny Lin