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Thu, Feb. 20

Heirloom Vegetables

Welcome to Verde Valley Good Eats, a blog covering the how-to's to backyard poultry, gardening,

putting the food by and where to find good eats that are all natural, Verde Valley grown. We will also offer up tips on preparing all natural food (particularly meats that have not been injected with water or dripping in fat), pickling, canning, a few recipes here and there and a general discussion on growing and eating it here.

The seed catalogs are arriving in the mailbox so Spring is not far behind. Today's topic is heirloom vegetables. Genetic engineering and cloning of vegetables has been big business for over 35 years. Vegetables are being developed for disease resistance, drought resistance, size, color, and outer skin strength to enable mechanical picking. What we are losing in all of these 'improvements' is flavor and genetic viability. Tomatoes just aren't tomatoes anymore!

A few words we need to define. Heirloom vegetables and fruits are the old varieties, pure strains that breed naturally true year to year. Most tend to be smaller than the hybrids generally flooding the market today, but have the flavor and vitamin packed goodness we remember and want. By definition, they must also be open pollinated, which means, bees, wind, water, birds or other natural means. While there will some varietal differences in succeeding generations, the main genetic makeup of the plant remains the same. Heirloom plants also adapt to their environment so that succeeding generations become resistant to disease, pests and drought in the area that they are grown. This is extremely important to the small grower and success. Heirloom seeds are a foundation to sustainable agriculture.

A hybrid plant of any variety is a cross between two or more varieties to obtain a third desired plant. Hybrids will not reproduce the same genetic material for next year and many will never form seeds. Most are self-pollinating or manually pollinated, preventing open pollination as nature intended. Even if a hybrid plant does grow next year, such as a squash, it most likely will not produce fruit. Hybrids first hit the commercial growing scene in the early 1950's and since the 1970's have become widespread due to commercial agriculture and seed sales to the home gardener.

A variety of any vegetable is simply a way of identifying that particular strain or type of plant. Big Boy tomatoes are a variety of tomato. Detroit Reds are a variety of beets. Butter and sugar is a variety of sweet corn.

Here in the Verde Valley we are lucky to have an heirloom seed company in our midst in Cornville, Seeds Trust. Their mailing address is Seeds Trust, PO Box 596, Cornville, AZ 86325 and their web site is seedstrust.com. Give them a call at (928) 649-3315. There is good info on their website as well.

I personally prefer heirloom vegetables because of their sustainability and flavor, particularly tomatoes and squash. I won't grow the largest tomatoes in the valley, but they are sweet and juicy. The squash are hearty and resistant to powdery mildew. No chemicals needed! As you are planning your crop this year, I suggest introducing heirlooms and then comparing their growth and output to the commercial hybrids we have become so accustomed to. I think after one season, you too will become a great fan of heirloom vegetables.

The next topic is planning an all natural garden. 'Til then, have a great time pouring over the colorful catalogs filling your mailbox and thinking about warm weather!

Lu Parker, Hens Nest Farm, Bridgeport. parkerlu@cableone.net

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