Heirloom vegetables are becoming more appreciated by the public for their unique colors, shapes, and superior flavor unavailable in modern cultivars (Klee, 2010). The increased popularity of heirloom vegetables began in the late 20th century and has been attributed to the return to the organic, local, and “authentic” foods movement (Weaver, 2000). However, experimenting with and cultivating heirlooms has been a popular pastime for centuries. Even Thomas Jefferson grew heirlooms at his Monticello plantation. In his 1000-foot long garden terrace, Jefferson tended to a number of heirloom cultivars, taking meticulous notes on the growth and cultivation of each species in his Garden Kalendar (Hatch, 2012). Heirloom cultivars are ideal for home gardeners and can be used in the commercial processing industry to improve sales.
A potential problem with heirloom varieties is that the consumer and the processing industry needs and desires can change through time (McLaughlin, 2010). Some heirlooms have fallen from favor because they are not widely adapted or they fail to satisfy commercial production standards or mainstream tastes (Gettle et al., 2011). These factors limit the ability of the old cultivars to compete against newer introduced cultivars whose general or specific attributes have broader appeal. So even with their perceived benefits, heirloom cultivars can be improved. Selection for improvement within an heirloom cultivar can enhance the consumer and/or horticultural value of heirloom cultivars.
Bosland, P.W. 1993 An effective plant field-cage to increase the production of genetically pure chile (Capsicum spp.) seed HortScience 28 1053
Bosland, P.W. & Walker, S. 2005 Growing chile in New Mexico, H-230. New Mex. Cooperative Extension Service Guide H-230
Collins, M.D., Mayer-Wasmund, L. & Bosland, P.W. 1995 Improved method for quantifying capsaicinoids in Capsicum using high-performance liquid chromatography HortScience 30 137 139
Coon, D., Votava, E. & Bosland, P.W. 2008 The chile cultivars of New Mexico State University released from 1913 to 2008. New Mexico State University Research Report 763
Gettle, J., Gettle, E. & Sutherland, M. 2011 The heirloom life gardener: The Baker Creek Way of growing your own food easily and naturally. Hyperion, New York, NY
Harper, R.E. & Nakayama, R.M. 1967 Notice of naming and release of Sandia, a pungent chile variety for New Mexico. Dept. of Horticulture, Agri. Expt. Sta. NM State Univ., Las Cruces, NM
Hatch, P.J. 2012 ‘A rich spot of earth’: Thomas Jefferson's revolutionary garden at Monticello. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
McLaughlin, C. 2010 The complete idiot's guide to heirloom vegetables. Alpha Books, New York, NY
Munsell Book of Color 1980 Glossy edition. Xrite Incorporated, Grand Rapids, MI
Walker, S. 2009 Red chile and paprika production in New Mexico. New Mexico State University Research Guide H-273
Weaver, W.W. 2000 100 vegetables and where they come from. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC