Organic heirloom seeds, sparked by interest in flavorful Brandywine tomatoes, have steadily grown in popularity, according to Barbara Damrosch and other leaders in a movement toward small-scale, sustainable agriculture. Since the late 1990s, publishers have responded to this public interest with informative illustrated books aimed to help home gardeners learn more about heirloom tomatoes and seeds.
'100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden'
Carolyn Male, a New York microbiology professor who has raised more than 1,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, defines the four types of heirlooms in this 1999 classic and presents 100 top performers for American gardens. Amazon.com reviewer Emily White praises the book's "enticing" photographs of freshly picked heirlooms; readers note their realism, showing lumpy heirlooms just as they are. The book includes copious information on how to grow heirlooms depending on which USDA growing zone you live in, as well as information on seed-saving techniques, heirloom seed stories and histories, and how to create your own heirloom seeds.
'Seed to Seed'
Educational administrator and master gardener Suzanne Ashworth, based in Sacramento, Calif., walks readers through techniques for saving the seeds of 160 different vegetables, helping home gardeners become stewards of the biological diversity of heirlooms. The Chelsea Green bookstore notes, "Seed to Seed," released in 2002, is considered the best guide to small-scale seed saving for home gardeners.
'Heirloom Vegetable Gardening'
Food historian William Woys Weaver, based outside Philadelphia, takes a comprehensive look at heirloom vegetables from artichokes to yams in this 464-page bible released in 1997. It covers nearly 300 varieties. Weaver provides tips on cultivation, aspects of different cultivars and enthusiastically tracks down the historic background of heirlooms, noting, "how can we possibly neglect the vast richness of our culinary heritage?" The author discusses seed catalogs and seed exchanges in depth.
'Gardening with Heirloom Seeds'
Lynn Coulter's more poetic take on heirlooms organizes the topic by the four seasons and segues into information on both vegetables and flowers. The Atlanta-based freelance journalist provides copious information on 50 species including beans, beets, carrots and spinach as well as amaranth, Sweet William and columbine. Publishers Weekly praised "Gardening with Heirloom Seeds," released in 2006, for its "well-researched, lively descriptions." Coulter provides specific information on how to collect, wash and store seeds by variety.