A large variety of heirloom plants grow in the state of Georgia, including a long list of vegetables. To qualify as a heirloom plant, the cultivars typically must pass down as seed for at least several generations. Since heirloom seeds require open pollination to keep their unique qualities, superior flavor usually becomes the winning trait.
Learn how to collect the seeds from any plants you grow to plant for the following year or to share with neighbors and friends. All of these plants grow in Georgia's USDA hardiness zones 6 to 8.
Heirloom bean seeds come from hundreds of cultivars. Each one offers a different taste, size, color and markings. Plants that grow well in Georgia include Christmas Lima, with its white and maroon seeds. "Snow on the Mountain" produces beautiful lima beans from seeds passed down since the 1800s.
Good pole beans include a variety called "Cherokee Trail of Tears" Pole, with purple-striped pods coming from seeds carried by the Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears in the mid-1800s.
Since cucumbers get cross-pollinated by insects, only plant one variety of cucumber seed to avoid creating hybrids if you plan to pass along the seed. Heirloom varieties look much different than the kind seen in today's nursery or hybrid seed packets. Try growing a variety called Lemon for its unique lemon-colored and lemon-shaped cucumbers. Or choose White Wonder, a variety that turns white when mature and easily reaches 7 inches in length.
A variety of heirloom tomatoes make great eating fresh or for canning. One of the most famous heirloom varieties, the Brandywine, started getting passed down in Chester County, Pa. in 1885. The plant thrives in Georgia's warm climate, where the great-tasting tomatoes grow up to 8 oz. each. Another variety, Cherokee Purple, produces purple, almost black tomatoes with bright red flesh. Or try Georgia Streak, a yellow and red beefsteak tomato passed down as a heirloom from Georgia gardeners. Slice some up to make beautiful, colorful salads.
When it comes to growing melons from heirloom seed, try Moon & Stars, a watermelon heirloom plant passed down from the Amish. The plants produce watermelons ranging in size from 15 to 30 pounds with sweet reddish-pink fruit. For green melons, try Jenny Lind, a plant that produces 1 to 2 lb. fruits with lime green flesh from seeds handed down starting in 1846. Another popular green melon, Hearts of Gold, features 3-lb. melons with salmon-orange, spicy flesh.
A variety of heirloom corn plants work well in Georgia although varieties need to be kept separate. Otherwise, the plants cross-pollinate and you end up with hybrid varieties. Consider bagging ears of corn you want to save for seed and hand pollinate them to keep the seeds pure. Try Golden Bantam, a plant introduced in 1902. Or plant Strawberry Popcorn with its 2- to 3-inch ears used for autumn and Thanksgiving decorations before popping into delicious popcorn.