Heirloom Vegetable Plants in Michigan

Heirloom vegetable cultivars date from before World War II. They have made a comeback as part of the movement to sustainable, local agriculture that began in the 1990s. "Most heirloom vegetables will grow in Michigan," notes master gardener Bill Pioch, owner of Nature's Heirlooms in Lapeer, Michigan. Plant warm-season heirlooms outside in Michigan in the first week of June, he recommends. To be successful with heirloom tomatoes in Michigan don't plant the seeds outside too early. Planting times may be earlier near Lake Michigan and later on the Upper Peninsula. Use a soil thermometer to check that the soil temperature has reached at least 60 degrees F., and the nighttime temperature has risen to at least 40 degrees F. before transplanting, Pioch recommends.


Gardeners in Michigan heirloom-growing classes are encouraged to try any heirloom tomato that intrigues them, without necessarily sticking to well-publicized cultivars such as the old standby Brandywine, which appeared in the Burpee catalog as early as 1882. Growers on the Upper Peninsula can plant varieties such as Stupice, with its 2- to 3-inch deep red fruits, or other cold-tolerant varieties such as Glacier and Sub-Arctic, red-slicing tomatoes recommended for northern gardeners with short seasons. Upper Peninsula growers can extend their growing season by using black plastic mulch and plastic tunnels to warm the soil. For growers statewide, Oxheart, a well-regarded pink slicer, has produced solid results in field trials, while heart-shaped Kosovo and round, red Nepal often win taste tests in Michigan. Among cherry tomatoes, Coyote and Matt's Wild Cherry produce good yields. Though tomatoes are technically a fruit, their use as a savory rather than sweet ingredient in cooking leads many hobbyist gardeners to include them in vegetable gardens and think of them as vegetables.


Many traditional heirloom peppers do well in Michigan, including the aptly named Chinese Giant, a sweet pepper that produces huge fruits up to 6 inches long that ripen from green to red. Hot peppers including Ancho San Luis, Checkoslovakian Black and Hungarian Wax also produce well.


Apple Green, with teardrop-shaped fruits, grows nicely in the Wolverine State, as do Thai Long Purple and Pingtong from Taiwan, with slender long purple fruits. Italian heirlooms also prove to be solid performers, including Rosa Bianca, with lavendar oval fruits, and Lista de Gandia, with egg-shaped purple and white fruits.

Pumpkins and Squashes

The Howden pumpkin produces round, 15-lb. pumpkins used for jack o'lanterns and sold at supermarkets and roadside stands. It produces well for Michigan home gardeners, as do the gourd-shaped, multicolored Hubbard squashes, flavorful butternut and green-rinded buttercup squashes.

Keywords: Michigan heirloom vegetables, Stupice tomato Michigan, northern gardening heirlooms, Upper Peninsula heirlooms, Lower Peninsula vegetables

About this Author

Rogue Parrish has written two travel books and edited at the "The Baltimore Sun," "The Washington Post" and the Alaska Newspapers company. She began writing professionally in 1975. Parrish holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.