About 15 years ago I was introduced to heirloom plants by a family member. I was always somewhat interested in gardening but learning that there is a long history to many of these plants opened up a whole new world for me.

When I learned about all the different kinds of older verities of tomato plants there were, my garden became much more than just an effort to grow tasty fruit — each variety had a story to tell. Some tomatoes were brought to us by immigrants from Germany, Italy and all over Europe. Some varieties were brought from Central and South America. Some were bred for slicing or canning, while others were bred for making paste or thickening cooking.

Because heirloom verities of plants are open-pollinated this means that each variety of tomato that I planted was grown from seeds that were saved from the previous season that were carefully selected and planted, year after year.

With each new variety of tomato that was planted, I’d learn about the history of the people and places that made the journey of that specific plant to my garden possible.

Interestingly, South Carolina has some well-known heirloom plants that I grow successfully in my garden today. These include:

  • The Charleston Gray Watermelon — introduced in 1954 in Charleston, South Carolina
  • Clemson Spineless Okra — a spineless variety of okra introduced in 1939 by Clemson University
  • The Dutch Fork or Mountaineer Half Runner Bean — a variety of runner bean that originated in the Dutch Fork area of South Carolina

When I plant these varieties, I get the satisfaction of knowing that I am helping to keep local food traditions alive, as well as getting access to really fresh and tasty produce.

If you’re interested in growing your own food in your backyard, check out the following books:

Square Foot Gardening
Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
Home Grown Pantry
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
The Kitchen Garden
Veggie Garden Remix

You can also come to any of our Master Gardners programs presented by Lexington County Master Gardeners Association. Check out our program calendar for more information about dates, times and topics.

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