CLEMSON — Do heirloom vegetables taste better? Many say so. But before you can cook them, though, you need to grow them. Clemson offers heirloom seeds that have been grown for more than a half-century in South Carolina and the South.

Extension horticulture specialist Millie Davenport examines heirloom seeds.

Extension horticulture specialist Millie Davenport examines heirloom seeds.

“Heirloom vegetables have been handed down for over 50 years from generation to generation, primarily because of how well they taste and how well they grow in these regions,” said Millie Davenport, the horticulture Extension agent who manages heirloom and vegetable seed sales at the S.C. Crop Improvement Association at Clemson University.

Supplies for some varieties are very limited and are expected to sell out quickly. Gardeners should check the website for updates on availability.

“Loudermilk butterbeans are an old-timey bean,” said Davenport. “Some people know them as  ‘Snow on the Mountain’ because of the bean’s beautiful stark white and deep black coloring. They are excellent producers and will grow till the frost kills the plants.”

Lynch Collection butterbeans

Lynch Collection butterbeans

Lynch Collection butterbeans also are robust producers, plus they have a surprise inside: open the pods, the beans are palette of colors ranging from a rich red-brown to black and tan.

Some like it hot, and Georgia White Hot peppers may make the nose tickle and run just from sniffing the seeds. “Remember to wash hands after handling the seed,” Davenport said.

Those who want to grow corn to make their own grits should make a spot in the garden for Carolina Gourd Seed corn.

“An important benefit of these heirloom vegetables is they provide a diverse gene pool for us to pull from for future breeding,” Davenport said.

Unlike hybrids that are “one and done” – hybrid seed will not regrow the original plant  — heirloom seeds regenerate by open pollination. Gardeners can sow them, grow them, harvest and hold them. Heirloom seed properly stored can become part of growers’ own gardening legacy.

Georgia white hot peppers

Georgia white hot peppers

They can share and swap seed with other gardeners and help keep the old varieties alive. The world may need heirlooms to add trait to improve modern crops.

Those who have an heirloom variety of their own and would like to share it should write to Millie Davenport at 1162 Cherry Road, Clemson, SC 29634.

The South Carolina Crop Improvement Association works with Clemson University, the USDA and other agricultural agencies and Experiment Stations in the development, testing, introduction, production, distribution and use of superior strains and varieties of planting stock. It conducts a foundation seed program and makes available foundation or registered planting stock.

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