Growing heirloom vegetables should be part of every homesteader’s gardening plan. In some cases, these old-fashioned specialties have been almost lost to the world, simply because most people end up growing today’s more common hybrid varieties.
When you grow heirloom vegetables, you’ll have a much larger selection from which to choose, due to the myriad of different varieties and strains that gardeners have grown throughout the past decades.
Many people are absolutely amazed at the variety that exists, such as the many different sizes, shapes and colors of tomatoes.
Growing heirloom vegetables on your homestead is a great way of getting back to nature, as well as a wonderful way to enjoy vegetables which were traditionally grown for taste, instead of their ability to sit on store shelves for a week without spoiling.
Planning Your Heirloom Vegetable Patch
One of the most difficult parts of planning an heirloom vegetable garden is choosing from among the almost endless variations. However, because heirloom vegetables lack some of the disease and insect resistance that has been bred into hybrids, you would do well to do a little research to find out which varieties are especially suited to your area.
Farmer’s markets that feature heirloom vegetable growers in your area are often willing to share their expertise with varieties, if you ask them and let them know you want to learn more. Online sites and gardening forums, especially those which specialize in heirloom vegetables, are also a great resource to utilize.
Once you’ve gotten some good ideas about what you want to grow, it’s time to start looking for seeds.
Although heirloom vegetable garden plants are available in some areas, most likely you will need to start your plants from seeds. Shopping for heirloom seeds can be a lot of fun, because you will find varieties that you likely never even knew existed. The internet is a great source for heirloom seeds and seed catalogs.
Starting Your Heirloom Vegetable Plants
Seeds that can be directly sowed outdoors are among the easiest to grow. Vegetables such as beets, lettuce, carrots, corn, beans and peas are almost never started indoors, but are instead planted directly in the ground at the correct time of year.
However, some plants such as tomatoes and peppers need an extra head start for the growing season, and require seeds to be sown indoors in most climates. Growing plants from seeds is not as difficult as you might think.
You’ll need a sturdy table, one or more fluorescent light fixtures, planting containers, and growing medium. Always use sterilized growing medium instead of ordinary outdoor soil when starting your seeds indoors, to prevent disease and plant loss.
This is even more important with heirloom plants, since they lack some of the disease resistance of today’s hybrid varieties. Keep the containers moist and warm until the seeds sprout then move them to a cooler location directly under the lights.
As the plants grow, you should continue to raise the height of the light fixture, so that the bulbs remain only an inch or two above the leaves of the plants.
Once they have grown too large for their original containers, repot them so that they can grow more roots.
At this point you should start leaving them outdoors for part of the day, so that they can “harden off” and become accustomed to the outdoor environment.
Then, when the danger of frost has passed, plant them directly in your garden and enjoy.