Heirloom Vegetable Varieties

With the end of season sales starting for garden seeds, it’s a good time to be buying heirloom or open pollinated seeds. Unfortunately, the big name seed companies aren’t always very good at labeling their product as hybrids or heirlooms. The aim of this article is to try to list the commonly seen varieties of non-hybrid vegetables, so that preppers can pick up seeds for their stockpile during the sale season.

First, some definitions: heirloom seeds are usually those varieties that were in existence prior to 1951, when the first hybrids appeared on the American market for home gardeners. An open pollinated seed is often, but not necessarily, an heirloom. Open pollinated just means that they are not a hybrid, and that the seeds will breed true if saved and planted in the next year. Obviously, in a SHTF situation, open pollinated (or “heirloom”) seeds are your best bet for long term survival. This does not mean that hybrid seeds won’t have a (small) place in your plans. There are a number of vegetables that are difficult to grow and that have long storage lives, where stockpiling some hybrid seeds as insurance wouldn’t be a bad thing, as long as this is alongside open pollinated varieties also.

I’ve only listed vegetables (and one flower) that are considered easy or moderate to grow. Difficult vegetables or less-commonly grown vegetables aren’t listed. Along with the varieties, I’ve also given the usual storage life of the seed in normal storage conditions (cool, dry, out of sunlight, stored in correct containers). Information on the need to protect from cross-pollination as well as the general hardiness range of the vegetables is also given. This should not be considered a good introduction to the art of seed saving, but merely something to help folks get started. The best book I’ve found for saving seeds is Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. It is definitely worth getting a copy for your home library.

The listing isn’t complete by any means, I compiled it by comparing the online catalogs for a couple of big name seed companies and noting the open pollinated or heirloom varieties that weren’t necessarily being marketed as such. There are probably ones I missed that are available in retail stores. As always, if you want the best selection of heirloom seeds, check out the various online retailers of heirloom seeds. Nor should this listing be considered as advice on which seeds to get – you need to consider your growing conditions, your families own desires, and your climate before finalizing selections.

Bear in mind that there are often slight name variations between seed companies. The most common change is word order with something like “Purple Podded Pole” becoming “Pole Purple Podded” or the like. Sometimes the spelling is off a bit such as “Dicicco” or “DeCicco”. These are usually fairly easy to determine that the varieties are the same. More difficult are ones that add or subtract a word or add a number at the end. Those you would need to use your best judgment on, but my advice would be to not depend on anything you had to take a flyer like that on. They might be good to purchase and test out, but depending on it being open pollinated might not be a good idea.

Beans: Easy difficulty. Annuals that store seed for 3 years, 4 years with 50% viability. They are best grown in zones 3-10, and rarely cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Bountiful, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Kentucky Wonder, Ideal Market, Lima Fordhook 242, Rattlesnake Snap, Roma II, Dragon’s Tongue, Contender, Gold of Bacau, Painted Pony, Purple Podded Pole, Red Swan, Romano Pole.

Beets: Moderate difficulty. Biennials that store seed for 4 years, 6 years with 50% viability. They are best grown in zones 2-10. They cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Chioggia, Burpee’s Golden, Detroit Dark Red, Bull’s Blood, Albino, Cylindra, Early Wonder, Ruby Queen.

Broccoli: Moderate difficulty. Biennials that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 3-10, and will cross-pollinate, not only with other broccolis, but with other vegetables such as cabbage.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Dicicco, Romanesco, Green Sprouting Calabrese, Purple Sprouting.

Brussels Sprouts: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 3 years. Will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Long Island and Catskill.

Cabbage: Fairly easy difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 1-9 and they will cross-pollinate with other vegetables such as broccoli.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Early Jersey Wakefield, Late Flat Dutch, Brunswick, Mammoth Red Rock, Charleston Wakefield, Copenhagen Early Market, Golden Acre, and Red Acre.

Cantaloupe: Moderate difficulty. Annual that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 4-11 and they will cross-pollinate with themselves and with other melons.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Hale’s Best and Hearts of Gold.

Carrots: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 3 years. They are best grown in zones 4-10 and they cross-pollinate, even with Queen Anne’s Lace.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Nantes (with many variations on the name), Touchon, and Danvers (also commonly found with many variations in the name).

Corn: Annuals. Sweet corn seed stores for 1-3 years, field corn seed stores for 3-5 years. They are wind pollinated so will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Golden Bantam (sometimes you see Golden Bantam Improved) and Country Gentlemen. Both of these are sweet corn varieties. Field corn is rarely encountered in garden centers, but you can occasionally find popcorn.

Cucumbers: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 4-11 and they will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: White Wonder, Straight Eight, Crystal Apple, Lemon, Marketmore 76, Parisian, and Boston Pickling.

Eggplant: Moderate difficulty. Perennials grown as annuals. Seed will store for 4 years, but the seeds have a poor germination rate, usually about 60%. Self-pollinating and for safety needs a small distance of separation. Usually grown in zones 4-10.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Black Beauty, Long Purple, Rosa Bianca, Turkish Orange, and Louisiana Long Green.

Kale: Easy difficulty. Seeds store for 4-6 years. Kale will cross with itself and with some other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Red Russian, Lacinato, Dwarf Blue Curled, and Dwarf Blue Scotch.

Leeks: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 2 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: American Flag and Blue Solaise.

Lettuce: Easy difficulty. Annual with stores seed for 6 years. They are best grown in zones 4-9 and they will cross-pollinate, but 20’ of distance is usually safe enough to prevent crossbreeding.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Black Seeded Simpson, Tom Thumb, Cimmaron, Lolla Rossa, Parris Island Cos (sometimes Parris Island Romaine or spelled Paris), Rouge d’Hiver, Deer Tongue, and Forellenschluss.

Mustard greens: Easy difficulty. Seeds store for 4 years. These come in annuals, biennials, and perennials and will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Tendergreen, Southern Giant Curled, Florida Broadleaf, and Giant Red.

Onion: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 1 to 2 years. They will cross-pollinate and are best grown in zones 3-9.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Walla Walla and Sweet Spanish Utah for globe onions and White Lisbon Bunching for green onions. Onions are vegetables that are difficult to find heirloom varieties outside of the various specialty stores.

Parsnips: Easy difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 1 year. Will cross-pollinate.
There aren’t many varieties of parsnips floating around, but handily the Hollow Crown variety is an heirloom.

Peas: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 3 years. Best grown in zones 3-11. They will cross-pollinate but 50’ distance is enough to prevent crossbreeding.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Green Arrow, Lincoln, Mammoth Melting Sugar (snow pea), Oregon Sugar Pod (snow pea), Oregon Sugar Pod II (snow pea), Wando, Thomas Laxton, Alaska, and Little Marvel.

Peppers: Moderate difficulty. Seeds will store for 2 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows in zones 1-11, although some places will need to start seed indoors.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include (hot varieties marked): Hungarian Hot Wax (hot), Long Red Slim Cayenne (hot), Jalapeno M (hot), Serrano (hot), Santa Fe Grande (hot), Serrano Tanpiqueno (hot), Tabasco (hot), Thai Hot (hot), Pepperoncini, Sweet Banana, Sweet California Wonder (aka California Wonder or CalWonder), Chinese Giant, Bull Nosed Bell, Emerald Giant, Marconi Golden, Golden California Wonder (aka Golden CalWonder), Jimmy Nardello, Sheepnose Pimento.

Pumpkins: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows in zones 3-9.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Connecticut Field, Small Sugar, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Big Max, Atlantic Giant, Long Island Cheese, Spookie, Casper.

Radish: Easy difficulty. Annual or biennial that stores seed for 5 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows best in zones 2-10.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Early Scarlet Globe, Black Spanish Round, Scarlet Turnip White Tip, Cherry Belle, China Rose, Crimson Giant, Daikon, French Breakfast, German Giant, Philadelphia White Box, Pink Beauty, Watermelon, White Icicle, White Hailstone Globe, Champion, Easter Egg.

Rutabaga: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 2-5 years. Will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
The only commonly found heirloom variety I found was Purple Top.

Squash: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Boston Marrow, Delecata, Early Golden Crookneck Squash, Fordhook Acorn, Marina di Chioggia, Red Kurl, Ronde de Nice, Waltham Butternut, Acorn Table Queen, Buttercup, Lakota.

Sunflowers: Easy difficulty. Seeds store 2-3 years for this annual. Will cross-pollinate. Note that most sunflowers from the major seed companies appear to be hybrids; I was only able to find the heirloom variety Lemon Queen offered.

Swiss Chard: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores for 5 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include Fordhook Giant, Bright Lights, Five Color Silverbeet, and Lucullus.

Tomatoes: Easy difficulty. Perennial grown as an annual that stores seed for 4 years. Does not normally cross-pollinate, but some of the potato leaf varieties may. Grows in zones 2-10.
There are a gazillion varieties of tomatoes available, and many of them are heirlooms. Among them are the many varieties of Brandywine, some of which come in potato leaf varieties, some of which aren’t. There are about as many varieties of Brandywine tomato out there as there are of some whole vegetable families!
Other commonly found heirloom varieties include: Bloody Butcher, Mortgage Lifter, Tigerella/Mr. Stripey, Amana Orange, Amish Paste, Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, Big Rainbow, Black Krim, Burpee Long Keeper, Chadwick Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Druzba, Delicious, Gardener’s Delight, Giant Pink Belgian, Green Zebra, Mariglobe, Principe Borghese, Red Zebra, Riesentraube, Rutgers, San Marzano, Stupice, Super Italian Paste, Yellow Pear, Big Red, Jubilee.

Turnips: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 4 years. Grows in zones 3-9 and will cross-pollinate.
The only commonly found heirloom variety is Purple Top White Globe, but there aren’t that many different turnip varieties in general.

Watermelons: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores seed for 4 years. Grows in zones 3-11 and will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Moon and Stars, Allsweet, Bush Sugar Baby, Congo, Crimson Sweet, Georgia Rattlesnake, Orange Tendersweet.

Zucchini: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores seed for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include Black Beauty and Cocozelle.

For ease of reference, I’ve listed the storage lives of the seeds for the above-listed vegetables in order below, in order from longest life to shortest life. Note that these storage estimates are for the “normal” storage conditions. They can be stored for longer periods with some preparation and care. This list will help decide if buying a big stash of seeds is really effective.
6 years: Lettuce
5 years: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Cucumbers, Radish, Squash, Swiss Chard
4 years: Beets, Eggplant, Kale, Mustard greens, Pumpkin, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelons, Zucchini
3 years: Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Corn (Field), Peas
2 years: Leeks, Peppers, Rutabagas, Sunflowers
1 year: Corn (Sweet), Onions, Parsnips

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