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Flavor has to top the list of reasons why a gardener would grow an heirloom variety.  After you've tasted a ripe, juicy Brandywine tomato fresh from (or right off the plant in) your own garden in August, you'll never go back to the store-bought kind.  the rediscovery of the fabulous taste of every kind of vintage vegetable accounts for much of the rediscovery of these old time varieties.

The novelty of trying something different has great appeal to gardeners, too.  Heirlooms represent much more diversity in terms of color and shape in addition to the above mentioned taste within vegetable types than hybrids.  Let's not discount the lure of being the first on your block to grow purple potatoes or orange eggplant, either.  In this same vein, one can't leave out the fun of growing varieties with such terrifically descriptive names.  Who could resist showing off Moon and Stars watermelon or Cherokee Trail of Tears beans in your own garden?

Some gardeners, who continue to grow varieties handed down from great great grandparents, take great pride in the historical aspect of vintage varieties and in keeping the bond to their forebears alive in their own gardens. 

Growing heirlooms has reached the trendy stage in backyard vegetable plots as several commercial seed companies now offer a few vintage varieties among their larger hybrid selections.  America's chefs have discovered the superior taste of these vegetables and feature specially created dishes that show off the best of the locally grown heirlooms in their locales.

It is easy to get nostalgic about the past in the growing of these plants.  One of the most important reasons for growing historic varieties, and especially for saving seed, is, simply, the future.  By retaining the broad diversity of the large gene pool that heirlooms represent, genetic scientists in the decades ahead will be able to further improve varieties based on a wide range of characteristics.  In particular, the genes from heirlooms can be used to solve some of our biggest food growing challenges: drought tolerance, disease resistance and production of higher yields.  Unless these genetically diverse plants are grown and their seed saved, the ecological and economic resilience of future vegetables will be diminished.

We've discussed all the advantages of growing heirlooms.  Now, what's the downside?  Well, they do not store as well as vegetables from hybrid plants.  They have a shorter shelf life.  Some varieties have a very long growing season.  Open-pollinated sweet corn is an example of a variety whose long maturity dates led to the development of modern hybrids exhibiting much shorter maturities, as much as 40 days less in the case of some extra early hybrids.  And finally, these delicious vegetables are more prone to disease and are not as widely adapted to as many growing regions as most hybrids are.  That said, those of us who increasingly turn our backyard plots over to more and more heirlooms feel that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.


 
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