One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant can have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade.
Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word "heirloom" in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.
Me, I like to grow pre 1951 heirloom veggies.
However, if it has a good story to tell, was discovered after 1945, is open pollinated and not a hybrid, then I will certainly grow it. That is what I then call a heritage vegetable.
Organically grown heirloom tomatoes...
Heirloom Cukes in the greenhouse reach for the sky
Organically grown heirloom peppers...
You might wonder why I am so passionate about heirloom veggies? Passionate enough to base my greenhouse business and personal kitchen garden around growing them?
It's pretty simple actually...
I like to know that the veggies I grow are completely sustainable and will carry over year after year ( so I'll be ready when the zombies come!), plus taste fabulous and look great.
Most importantly though, I really, really like the story! To know that someone loved this tomato/pepper/cucumber/etc... so much, that they collected it's seeds each year, literally for decades, and then entrusted a family member to carry on the tradition, caring for this particular vegetable for generations! Wow! That is love and dedication!
(Psst, this particular tomato, in the picture, comes from Radiator Charlie)
Grocery store veggies may come from anywhere, even half way across the world, but they all taste the same and pretty much look the same... bland and boring. Even in the summer time, when you figure they should be local and fresh, they rarely are, and they still taste like.. nothing.
I urge you to come to the greenhouse, pick up a couple of strange, wacky, heirloom plants. Give 'em a go. I think that you, too, will be hooked. There is something awfully special about growing your own produce, especially when the flavour is unlike anything you have ever tried before! That they come in jewel tones and fabulous shapes, are gorgeous to look at, well heck.... that is just a bonus ;)