The Q&A Archives: What is the Definition of Heirloom Vegetables?

Question: I am taching a vegetable gardening class and have been trying to define "heirloom" vegetables. Are these typically vegetables from a certain era? When are varieties no longer heirlooms?

Answer: The term "heirloom vegetables" is certainly open to interpretation! In general, I think it would be safe to say that these are seed strains and hybrids which come true from seed and have been cultivated as such for generations. Originally many were identified as superior plants by farmers and home gardeners who then saved seed and culled through successive generations of plants to stabilize the desired characteristics. They will be heirloom forever, as long as they are passed along from year to year and grown from seed descended from those original plants. With that definition, it would be possible to identify a seed strain today that could become worthy of being passed along and thus an heirloom "tomorrow".

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