Heritage vegetables

by Adam Pasco

I'm beginning to wonder whether growing old heirloom or heritage varieties of vegetables is really worthwhile.

Tomato 'Snow White Cherry'I'm beginning to wonder whether growing old heirloom or heritage varieties of vegetables is really worthwhile. My tomato 'Snow White Cherry', sold as a heritage variety by many companies, was a real disappointment this year, and I wish I'd grown 'Gardener's Delight' or any one of my favourite reliable performers instead.

The crop looked quite reasonable, as my picture shows, but the fruits really didn't have much flavour. They developed to a pale yellow colour rather than white, which does make it hard to determine when fruits are actually ripe to pick. Many turned soft and fell before I realised they were fully ripe, while others split badly later in the season, and weren't as tolerant of irregular watering patterns (is that my fault or the variety?).

I've been a member of the Heritage Seed Library run by Garden Organic for many years, and fully endorse the value and ethos of saving varieties from extinction. After all, you never know when the genetic material they contain could be of value in future plant breeding projects.

However, it's best the assumption that old varieties are necessarily better than new ones. Yes, some are unusual and create a good talking point, while others have lovely stories attached to them. But if you are primarily interested in getting the biggest yield and best flavour for the space and effort then this may not come from heritage crops. After all, why did the seed companies stopped selling them in the first place?

I'll be treating heritage crops as a novelty from now on, then I won't be disappointed if they don't perform as well as my 'tried and tested' favourites.

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Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2007 at 00:00

Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2007 at 17:48

I would usually fully agree with you. When it comes to potatoes and carrots, I always stick to my well known and reliable varieties. But I usually try the odd heirloom one, and now and then you'll find a hidden treasure. This year I came across the tomato variety 'sub arctic plenty', which won me over completely with their sweet taste and ability to produce a good yield in a cold climate up here in the North Isles (no, not outside, but in a cold greenhouse). So I would suggest, if you got the space, give some of the old varieties a go!

Gardeners' World Web User 13/11/2007 at 09:29

I agree with Adam, I tried some Heritage varieties this year and also had problems. I tried Brandywine and Black Russian. Yields were poor although the flavour of Brandywine was good both suffered badly from blight and rotted before they ripened. Olivade I also grew was a superb cropper, tasted well and suffered no blight problems.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/11/2007 at 19:00

I agree with Helen. Like her I have grown Gardener's delight for years. However they were most disappointing this year. They didn't crop well and were quite tasteless. I shall try another variety next year. I also found my Plum variety yielding a small crop this year.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/11/2007 at 15:42

I grew gardeners delight for the first time this year and was very dissapointed both by yield and flavour, they were grown both in a cold greenhouse and outsde in the north of england.

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