When we moved to our small farm in Minnesota in 1994, we told our son, who was five at the time, that he could grow anything he wanted in our garden. “I want to grow bacon,” he responded. We did raise “bacon” as well as chickens that year but decided to take our vegetable garden to another level, as well. We opted to buy many of our transplants and seeds at nearby Seed Savers Exchange. This was our first introduction to heirloom seeds and the great bounty and wonderful taste that open-pollinated varieties provide. We have been disciples of heirlooms ever since.
Gardeners sometimes think that heirloom varieties are more susceptible to pests and diseases because, unlike many hybrids, they weren’t specially bred to resist these threats. This isn’t necessarily true. Heirloom varieties that are grown in the same location year after year will, in fact, naturally adapt to regional conditions, making them a hedge against pests, diseases, and changing environmental conditions. Of the hundreds of heirlooms that I’ve grown, these eight varieties have become regular fixtures in my USDA Hardiness Zone 4 garden, selected for their superb taste and ease of growing.