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Where to Begin with Heritage Crops

Green plant shoots emerge from the soil.

Successful gardening does not happen immediately. Rather, it’s a step-wise process that requires a mixture of experience, patience and direction. Heritage crops, which have long histories in West Virginia gardens, are an excellent way to start the garden season.

Heritage gardening begins with finding seeds or plants that have a history or are native to Appalachia. Some locally owned garden centers, nurseries and commercial seed companies have a selection of Appalachian heritage or native plants.

Another option would be to review the Market Bulletin newsletter published monthly by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. This newsletter will often list plants or seeds for sale by West Virginia seed savers or plant collectors.

The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, is a national organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage seeds and is an excellent resource for heritage crops, including many from Appalachia. In addition, Dr. Bill Best from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture in Berea, Kentucky, is a resource for many heritage bean, squash and tomato varieties.

Seed libraries in West Virginia are being established and can serve as a depository for heritage plants, as well as a resource for gardening information. Seed exchanges or swaps are common at many sustainable agriculture conferences throughout the Appalachian region.

Many heritage varieties are tolerant to environmental stresses, such as temperature or drought, but it is recommended that some varieties be trellised, mulched and irrigated for maximum yield and ease of harvest.

By Lewis Jett, WVU Extension Specialist – Commercial Horticulture