Why Grow Heirlooms?
Decades of modern breeding in vegetable crops has yielded some useful varieties, but at a price. Quality has usually been sacrificed to the producers’ convenience, harvesting and shipping. Too often, crops have been bred for uniformity, to write them all at once (to facilitate mechanical harvesting), or tough skins (to allow produce to withstand rough handling and shipping - sometime thousands of miles!)
Quality, taste and even nutritional value have been casualties of this trend. Increasingly, studies are showing that the nutritional values and factory-farmed produce are actually lower. Protein content in corn is one example. Old-style, open-pollinated field corn, the type grown for feed or milling into flour, often contain almost twice as much protein as the new hybrids. Studies have also shown higher levels of copper, iron, and manganese in at least some open pollinated varieties.
Heirloom varieties are often the product of many generations of careful selection by farmers and gardeners who knew what they wanted from their plants. If a variety has been carefully nurtured and it's identification kept by generations of a family or in a small geographic area, it stands to reason that it must perform well in the conditions under which it has been preserved. By taking some care to choose varieties from your own area, or those that come from similar conditions, it is quite possible to select new varieties that will be very vigorous and productive in your own garden.
A great advantage of heirlooms is the fact that, provided precautions are observed when growing a crop, seed may be saved for future years, and it will be true to type, year after year! You can't do this with hybrids. If you save seed grown from hybrid parents, the offspring will show a lot of variation and, in all likelihood, be markedly inferior to the parents. In fact, careful selection in your own garden can actually produce a unique strain of the crop grown, resulting in even better performance under your unique conditions!
TRADITION AND CONTINUITY: