Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Heirlooms RSS feed


GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written August 30, 2015


Having been at this job for over 30 years, I have seen gardening trends come and go. Way back in the 1980s there were numerous local gardeners interested in food gardening, growing both vegetables and tree fruit in their backyards. You could always find a large variety of vegetable transplants available at big box stores, as well as at local nurseries.

In the 1990s things started to change, fewer and fewer gardeners were interested in growing their own produceThe big box stores changed to offering fewer vegetable transplants, instead focusing primarily on colorful annual flowersI am not sure if this happened because gardeners realized that gardens and fruit tree were a lot of work, they had easy access to fresh produce from local farmers markets, their busy lives did not allow much time for gardening, or a combination of all these.

I am happy to say we have now come full circle and gardeners, especially younger gardeners under the age of 50, are interested in food gardening againThe focus is on veggies and herbsA survey taken by Today’s Garden Center indicates that these “youngsters” say gardening gives them a sense of accomplishment, allows them to become more self sufficient and have more control over the safety of their food, and provides a way to get children outside and teach them about nature. Wonderful!

Another thing to know about younger gardeners is their interest in food and cookingThere is a proliferation of television cooking shows that are enjoyed by both young adults and older folks like meBecause the All-America Selections (AAS) organization has noticed that cooking fresh foods is “trending,” they plan to market their 2016 winning herb and vegetable selections with five videos that demonstrate cooking techniques.

With the home garden focus back on vegetables, many of the big seed companies are strongly marketing their new vegetable varieties, especially ones with more compact growth habits that are easier to fit into the smaller gardens of today’s gardeners. These are a few that have already hit the market or will be arriving next year:

Basil ‘Docle Fresca’( is an AAS 2015 winner that is a “new and better” compact Genovese basil plant with sweet tender leaves and growing only 10 to 14 inches tallIt is drought tolerant and a good container plant

Pea ‘Masterpiece’ ( a pea that Burpee calls a “triple treat” with edible tendrils, pods, and peasGrowing up to 30 inches tall and 32 inches wide, these pretty peas plants work well in containers and limited-space gardens

Kale ‘Simply Salad Kale Storm’ (, is a mix of salad kales that are slow to boltThe seed combined into single pellets is a mix of different leaf textures and colorsNot only will this work well as fall cool-season crop for container growing, it will also serve as an attractive ornamental during the fall months

Tomato Heirloom Marriage Series (PanAmerican Seed) is a series of tomato hybrids that are the results of crosses between two heirloom varieties to create an F1 hybrid variety, “marrying” the best characteristics of each parent for improved performance in the gardenOne already available (along with others) is ‘Big Brandy’ whose parents are ‘Big Dwarf’ and ‘Brandywine’ Coming in 2016 is ‘Marzinera’, a cross between ‘San Marzano’(my new favorite tomato) and ‘Cream Sausage.’

Zucchini ‘Brice’ (no retail seller available ) is a zucchini that produces 3 to 4 inch light green round fruit on compact plants with attractive mottled leavesIt is more manageable than many zucchini and is great for container or limited-space gardeningThe fruit can be hollowed out for stuffingYummy!

This season isn’t even over yet and I am thinking about next year. Whoa!


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Heirloom veggies and flowers are a ‘growing’ trend in gardening. Last week I talked about why more gardeners are opting to grow heirloom vegetables, but there’s still more information about these botanic hand-me-downs that gardeners might want to know.

We hear a lot about heirloom tomatoes, but are there heirloom versions of other types of vegetables? The answer is yes. You can find heirloom varieties of beans, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, pumpkins, potatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, squash, and water melons. While the number of these heirloom varieties is not as impressive as that of heirloom tomatoes, the list keeps growing as plant finders discover new gems from around the world.

Can I save my own seed? You can save your own seed, but it’s easier and more successful with certain types of vegetables. Some crops, like tomatoes, are self-pollinating (using their own pollen to fertilize their flowers) and typically don’t cross pollinate between varieties. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, peas, and beans are all self-pollinating. Because insects can occasionally transfer pollen from one variety to another (cross-pollinate) you can be reasonably assured that your ‘heirlooms’ will be preserved by planting different varieties of these self-pollinators at least ten feet apart.

It’s harder, but not impossible, to maintain heirloom varieties of crops that rely on insects or wind for pollination. Different varieties of these crops need to be isolated by greater distances, such as several hundred yards, to prevent cross-pollination from occurring. With the smaller size of today’s yards and gardens, this becomes more of a problem. For most of us, it’s easier to just grow one most desirable variety of these crops. However, if a nearby neighbor is also growing a garden, there’s a risk of contaminating cross-pollination from their plants.

Crops that rely on wind or insects for pollination include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, melons, onions, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash, turnips, and watermelons.

Where can you buy seeds of heirloom veggies? Even the mainstream seed companies offer seed of a number of heirloom varieties and I’ve even seed some heirloom seeds for sale on local garden store racks. However, there are a few companies that specialize in selling heirloom seed. One of these is Seed Savers Exchange which ‘is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Since 1975, members have been passing on our garden heritage by collecting and distributing thousands of samples of rare garden seeds to other gardeners.’ They offer a wide variety of heirloom vegetable crops and varieties, as well as heirloom annual flowers, sunflowers, and prairie seed. Located in Iowa, you can find them at or (563) 382-5990.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds indicate that they are ‘America’s Top Source for Pure Heirloom Seeds.’ The company was started in 1998 by Jere Gettle when he was only 17. The company now offers 1,400 varieties of vegetable, flowers, and herbs. Located in Missouri, you can reach them at or 417-924-8917. They also publish a very nice quarterly publication called the ‘Heirloom Gardener’ which covers more than vegetable gardening. The last issue featured squash , cover crops, historic grains, cheese making, growing garlic, antique apples, and yummy fall recipes.

Seeds of Change was ‘founded in 1989 by passionate gardeners with a vision to make organically grown seeds available to gardeners and farmers, while preserving countless heirloom seed varieties in danger of being lost to the “advances” of modern industrial agriculture.’ Based out of California, they can be reached at or 1-888-762-7333.
Published: 11/18/2011 9:15 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Growing heirloom vegetables has been a ‘growing’ gardening trend over the last ten years. It seems to be part of the larger ‘green’ wave, a desire for natural foods, as well as environmentally safe cleaning products, building materials, and more. The number of companies offering heirloom vegetable seeds and plants increases every year, but are heirlooms really better than modern hybrids? Before answering that question we should agree on what constitutes an ‘heirloom’ vegetable.

The term ‘heirloom vegetable’ means different things to different people. To some, heirlooms are simply varieties that have been grown for a number of years. Others consider heirlooms to have been handed down from generation to generation within the same family. Still others specify a minimum time-frame of 50 to a 100 years for this generational bequeathal process. One thing that can be agreed upon is that heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that tend to breed true to type. The number of years an ‘heirloom’ variety has been in existence and it’s family origins are still up for discussion.

What is the value of modern hybrids? The fresh vegetables that most of us eat, especially during the winter, are grown in commercial fields and then shipped to grocery stores or processors. At the grocery store we expect good quality produce. Plant breeders have developed varieties with fruit that ship well and are generally the same size, shape, and color when harvested. They’ve also bred varieties that color up early so they can be picked before they are fully ripe and shipped more easily without developing bruises or blemishes.

Processors need a reliable crop that meets specific requirements of uniform shapes and sizes for their specific needs, as well as varieties the are easy to harvest and ship. For processors, plant breeders have developed disease resistant varieties that all ripen about the same time, have tougher skins and uniform fruit.

For example, Columbian, Roza, Rowpac, and Saladmaster are four curly top virus resistant tomato varieties developed at the WSU Research Station in Prosser by Dr. Mark Martin, USDA, in the 1960s. Developed for the processing industry, they aren’t the best tasting garden tomato you can find, but for gardeners in western US regions where curly top is a serious problem they’re the only ones that will reliably produce tomatoes.

What is the value of heirloom varieties? For many the value of heirlooms is all about flavor and taste. One of the first heirloom veggies to make it big time was the Brandywine tomato. It became well known because it won top honors in numerous tomato tasting competitions. Modern varieties have been bred for an assortment of reasons, with flavor often not being the primary goal. When a family passed Aunt Ruby’s German Green (my favorite heirloom tomato) down from generation to generation, extraordinary flavor was no doubt their principal reason. Other reasons some gardeners prefer heirlooms is that they desire to preserve genetic diversity.

Which is better? While the flavor of heirlooms generally far surpasses that of the hybrids, most of us still like a dependable crop of fresh tomatoes, squash, or other veggies. Heirlooms that grew well in one region will not necessarily grow well in gardens across the country. Gardeners often find heirlooms less productive and reliable than modern varieties due to disease and climatic factors. My recommendation is to grow some of both, since you can’t beat the flavor of heirlooms or the reliability of modern varieties.
Published: 11/11/2011 9:06 AM



Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
© 2018 Washington State University | Accessibility | Policies | Copyright | Log in