How many times have you heard someone say "I've never tasted a tomato as good as the ones that grew in my grandma’s garden?" Chances are they were talking about an heirloom variety - like 'Green Zebra' with tangy green and yellow striped fruit.
2. DIVERSITY OF COLOURS AND TEXTURES
Beetroot is surprisingly low in calories; given it has the highest sugar content of all vegetables. Historically in Europe, the beet was often used as the raw material for the production of refined sugar. The leafy tops of beetroot are also edible and can be used in much the same way as spinach or silverbeet to add colour and flavour to a variety of dishes. Beetroot is easily harvested with a gentle tug, as most of the root sticks up above the soil.
• ‘Italian Chioggia’ - The orange-red skin is quite attractive, but the real surprise comes when you slice it down the middle, revealing concentric rings of pink and white flesh.
• ‘Golden Beetroot’ - As far as beetroot goes, golden beets are the sweetest. The beets are orange when harvested and turn a lovely rich golden yellow when cooked.
• ‘Bull’s Blood’ - These deep red roots are deliciously sweet, but the real talking point is the blood-red foliage, which brings intense colour to the ornamental garden and the plate.
FIVE COLOUR SILVERBEET
An easy grower with brilliantly coloured red, orange, yellow, pink or white stems, which can be harvested as needed for months. The leaves and stems can be used in salads, stews and soups.
Serve this on the dinner plate and you'll raise some eyebrows. Purple asparagus is a perennial vegetable, so you great tender spears within 2 years of planting, then increasing yield for the next 20 years.
There are many kinds of carrots available including white, yellow and purple varieties. The purple carrot originated in Afghanistan and still features strongly in the cuisine of this region and was well know in Europe in the Middle Ages. In fact, it was the Dutch who crossed a purple carrot with a lemon-coloured one to yield the orange carrots we know today. The skin is purple with orange flesh and a yellow core but the skin loses its colour when cooked, so lightly steam or serve raw sliced down the centre for greatest impact. ‘Belgium white’, ‘Yellow lobbericher’ and ‘Purple dragon’ are some great varieties.
Carrots usually reach maturity about 3 months after sowing, but can be pulled early as sweet baby carrots. You can usually get a fair idea of a carrot’s maturity by observing the size of the carrot top above the ground or gently scraping away a bit of soil to check the root. In loose friable soils, carrots can be easily pulled out. Where soils are heavier, loosen around them with a fork first.
3. SEED SAVING
It's a nice tradition to be able to go out into the garden and collect seed from year to year to replant the following season, but with a lot of modern varieties isn’t possible as plants don't grow true to type. Most heirloom varieties allow you to collect your own seed year after year and grow the same plant. It isn’t hard to do. Always select the strongest, healthiest and tastiest plants to save seed from. For leafy and root vegetables, let them run to seed and for fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and pumpkins, leave the best fruits on the vine until they are fully ripe.
4. LENGTH OF CROPPING
Heirloom varieties tend to pace their crops throughout the season, providing fresh produce for your kitchen over weeks or months, unlike modern varieties which often give you a glut of mature produce all at once.
* Heirloom vegies are sold as seed, but can be bought in punnets at specialty nurseries.
* When harvesting beetroot, be sure to keep the leaves as they are great in soups and stir-fries.
* Another popular heirloom 'purple asparagus', maintains its colour when cooked.
www.diggersclub.com.au - (seeds)
www.seedsavers.net - (seeds/education)
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