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From Bloody Butchers and Cream Sausage (tomatoes), from Lazy Housewife (French beans) to Bull’s Blood (beetroot) – the quirky names of the Heritage or Heirloom varieties of vegetable seed are fascinating.

A Heritage vegetable, alternatively known as an Heirloom vegetable, is an old cultivar of a plant that was historically grown by gardeners and farmers before the inception of the F1 hybrid and modern large-scale agriculture.

Heritage is a term that is generally used in the UK whilst Heirloom is more commonly used in the USA although, essentially, they mean the same.

The Heritage/Heirloom seeds have been passed down through the generations when harvesting our own seed was more of a tradition.  This is an environmentally sound process and saves money on purchasing seeds too.

Announcing the “Heritage Award”

Rye Flower and Veg Show 2024 will take place in the Community Centre, Conduit Hill on 31st August and we are excited to announce a new class the “Heritage Vegetable Class”.  This class will be generously sponsored by Rye Heritage Centre to celebrate our organisation’s 20th Anniversary.  The idea came from Simon Parsons, the Manager, who has offered a prize for a Heritage class.   

Rye Heritage Centre, situated on Strand Quay, is a local history centre which allows visitors to explore and experience 750 years of historic Rye.  Their logo “experience the past today” is also entirely appropriate to describe the growing of our Heritage vegetables. 

Restaurants are using more and more Heritage veg on their menus and one of the reasons is that the flavours are considered to be superior to the modern hybrids and create a wonderful link to the past where we can taste tomatoes, sweet corn, beetroot and beans, amongst others, in almost exactly the same way as our ancestors. That is “to experience the taste of the past today”.

Saving Heritage Seeds

In the last century we have lost an estimated 2,000 local vegetable varieties due to intensive production, seed regulations and industrialisation.  The Heritage Seed Library in Coventry was set up to preserve these older seeds and currently holds around 800 varieties.  They have a very useful Facebook account which gives advice on how to save your own seeds.

One important tip, should you wish to grow your own this year, is that only one variety of a species should be planted at a time so there is no cross-pollination and specialist growers often use growing cages to help with this.

I fully intend to grow a couple of varieties for the show next year. I might try the ‘Angel’ French bean, which features a tiny angel figure on the seed, or the ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ bean with its beautiful orange/red flowers.  Mind you, ‘Best of All’ tomatoes sound fun as does ‘Uncle Bert’s’ purple kale.

Heritage/Heirloom seeds are widely available online so please consider an order of specialist seeds and enter the Heritage Veg section next summer.

Thanks for the brainwave Simon!

Featured image courtesy of

National Seed Library

Class sponsor

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