How To Grow Vintage Veggies At Home

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July 20, 2020

This article originally appeared in Garden Culture Magazine UK34 & US32.

Do you dream about your grandmother’s vegetable garden? If you are a lover of all things vintage, then consider growing ancient fruits and vegetables! These old cultivars will add pops of color to the unique, farm-fresh meals you cook.

Among the hundreds of varieties currently available on the market, the ancestral vegetable cultivars created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are now being rediscovered by amateur gardeners. Robust and vigorous, some of these old varieties offer exciting shapes and characteristics while yielding excellent results in the garden.

Growing heritage vegetables is not only a way of honoring the richness of our horticultural heritage but also of protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

Eggplant ‘Turkish Orange’

It is believed that this eggplant cultivar has been grown in Turkey since the 15th century. It produces spherical, orange fruits streaked with green. Each plant, which reaches a little over 50 centimeters (or 20″) in height, can produce up to 15 fruits!

Turkish orange

Space between plants: 45 cm (18″)
Sowing depth: 6 mm
Sowing period: indoors, eight weeks before the last frost date 
Number of days from planting to harvest: 85
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

‘Burpee’s Golden’ Beet

The ‘Burpee’s Golden’ beet produces round, orange-yellow roots. The vibrant and pretty color remains even after cooking. Sow these seeds closer together than other beet varieties, as the germination rate of ‘Burpee’s Golden’ is somewhat lower.

burpee golden beet

Space between plants: 5 cm (2″)
Sowing depth: 13 mm
Sowing period: in the ground, two to three weeks before the last frost date
Number of days from sowing to harvest: 70
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, light, and well-drained

‘Crapaudine’ Beet

Of French origin, this vintage beet variety is distinguished from all the others by its long cone-like root, which sometimes measures more than 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length. The vegetable’s wrinkled peel has a texture similar to that of tree bark. The dark purple-red flesh has a delicious, sweet flavor.

'Crapaudine' Beet

Space between plants: 5 cm (2″)
Sowing depth: 13 mm
Sowing period: in the ground, two to three weeks before the last frost date 
Number of days from sowing to harvest: 70
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, light, and well-drained

‘Yellow Obtuse du Doubs’ Carrot

 ‘Yellow Obtuse du Doubs’ is a carrot cultivar from France that was developed in the 19th century. Its roots have a beautiful golden color. 

'Yellow Obtuse du Doubs' Carrot

Space between plants: 5 cm (2″)
Sowing depth: 1 cm (0.5″)
Sowing period: in the ground, three to four weeks before the last frost date
Number of days from sowing to harvest: 75
Light: full sun to partial shade
Soil: loose, light, and fresh

‘Brown Russian’ Cucumber

‘Brown Russian’ is a unique cucumber whose taste cannot be beaten! Developed in Ukraine around 1879, this heritage variety produces fruits with a brown peel and crisp white flesh. Its flavor is mild and slightly sweet. Harvest about two months after transplanting outdoors and when the fruit reaches 12 to 18 centimeters (5-7 inches) in length. Fruits can also be harvested younger when their peel is still yellow.

'Brown Russian' Cucumber

Space between plants: 50 cm (20″)
Sowing depth: 13 mm
Sowing period: indoors, three weeks before transplanting outdoors (after the last frost and when the soil temperature is 15°C (59°F) or higher
Number of days from transplant to harvest: 60
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, light, and fresh

‘Oka’ Melon

This melon cultivar was created in 1910 by the Trappist father Athanase, director of the Agricultural Institute of Oka in the Canadian province of Quebec. He created this melon with a tasty orange flesh by crossing the famous ‘Montreal’ melon with the older ‘Banana’ cultivar. The ‘Oka’ melon does very well in cold climates, making it possible to grow in most of the northern regions of North America and Europe.

'Oka' Melon

Space between plants: 60 cm (24″)
Sowing depth: 15 mm
Sowing period: indoors, four weeks before the last frost
Number of days from planting to harvest: 90
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

‘Gogosári’ Pepper

This ancestral pepper cultivar has been grown for over a hundred years in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. After the Second World War, when Communist agriculture took off, other varieties were favored, but some farmers continued to produce this traditional pepper. ‘Gogosári’ presents curious ribbed and flattened purple-red fruits. They have a thicker, crunchier, and juicier flesh than most other varieties.

Space between plants: 30cm (12″)
Sowing depth: 6 mm
Sowing period: indoors, nine weeks before the last frost
Number of days from planting to harvest: 70
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

‘Corno di Toro’ Pepper

Developed in Italy, this ancestral cultivar produces narrow and elongated fruits, resembling bovine horns. The fruits, which can be more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) in length, are sweet and have a thin red skin.

'Corno di Toro' Pepper

Space between plants: 30 cm (12″)
Sowing depth: 6 mm
Sowing period: indoors, nine weeks before the last frost
Number of days from planting to harvest: 75
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

‘Russian Blue’ Potato

This unusual cultivar produces tubers with purplish-blue skin and flesh. Baked, steamed, or fried, this potato retains its unique color.

Space between plants: 30 cm (12″)
Sowing depth: 10 cm (4″)
Sowing period: in the ground, two to three weeks before the last frost (put tubers in the ground)
Number of days from sowing to harvest: 100
Light: sun
Soil: rich, light, and deep

‘Golden Sweet’ Snow Peas

Some historians say Gregor Mendel used this ancient cultivar from India in his experiments with genetics. ‘Golden Sweet’ produces very sweet, pale yellow pods and purple-pink flowers that contrast sharply with each other.

'Golden Sweet' Snow Peas

Space between plants: 2 cm (0.7″)
Sowing depth: 25 mm
Sowing period: outside in April or May, 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, or at the end of summer for an autumn harvest
Number of days from sowing to harvest: 50
Light: full sun
Soil: light, fresh, and well-drained

‘Brandywine’ Tomato

The ‘Brandywine’ tomato has been cultivated since 1885 and produces large, juicy, irregularly shaped red fruits. This popular tomato is said to be one of the tastiest.

'Brandywine' Tomato

Space between plants: 50 cm (20″)
Sowing depth: 15 mm
Sowing period: indoors, eight weeks before the last frost
Number of days from planting to harvest: 80
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

‘Marvel Stripe’ Tomato

Native to Mexico, this ancient cultivar produces large yellow and red fruits that are sweet and not very acidic. ‘Marvel Stripe’ does best when planted in a warm and very sunny place.

'Marvel Stripe' Tomato

Space between plants: 50 cm (20″)
Sowing depth: 15 mm
Sowing period: indoors, nine weeks before the last frost
Number of days from planting to harvest: 85
Light: full sun
Soil: rich, loose, and well-drained

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Albert Mondor

Biologist and horticulturist at Les Jardins d'Albert inc.
Passionate about environmental horticulture, urban agriculture, and extreme landscape design, Albert Mondor has practiced his craft for over 30 years and created numerous gardens in North America. In addition to teaching courses and lecturing at conferences across Canada, his weekly gardening column appears in the Journal de Montréal and the Journal de Québec since 1999. Albert recently published his tenth horticultural book, Le nouveau potager. He is a regular guest and contributor to radio and TV programs and hosts The Trendy Gardener spots broadcasted on Météo Média and online. In May 2014, Albert was awarded the prestigious Henry Teuscher Award, presented by the Montreal Botanical Gardens for his exceptional contribution to the advancement of horticultural knowledge in Canada.
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