10 Heirloom Seeds for Dazzling Vegetables

Dry glass gem corncobs glisten in a pile.

hthrd / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Ever dreamt of gorgeous and delicious heirloom veggies planted in your garden? It's much more within reach than you might think.

While modern seeds are designed to produce the highest possible yield that can last through shipping and storage, they aren't very flavorful. This might be best exemplified by the modern tomato, which some find bland. That's where heirloom seeds come in — they're often traced back multiple centuries, to times when seeds yielded fruit that was not only bursting with flavor, but beautiful to look at, too.

Here are 10 heirloom seed varieties that will make for stunning and delicious vegetables come harvest time.

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

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Chinese Pink Celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum)

You'll never see celery the same after growing this neon pink heirloom variety of celery. Lightly sweet, this neon pink annual veggie is served in high-end restaurants in northern China and is great for stocks and soups. Chinese pink celery—like all Chinese celery, or "cutting celery" as it's sometimes called—has a stronger pepper flavor than regular celery. While celery prefers moderate temperatures, making it great for the spring and fall growing seasons, you might be surprised at its ability to grow in more extreme temperatures, too. Note that it's a biennial that is treated like your other annuals.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, ample organic matter.
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Glass Gem Corn (Zea mays var. indurata)

Glass gem corncobs.

hthrd / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

The kernels of glass gem corn heads are technicolor and translucent, shining like beads from mother nature with the added benefit of being delicious, too. A variant of flint corn, glass gem corn has gained in popularity and is grown and cultivated annually similarly to regular corn. It is an important food for indigenous communities, having been bred by famed Cherokee corn enthusiast Carl Barnes.

A couple of weeks after the last frost, plant three to four seeds per hole, with six to 12 inches between each hole.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist but well-draining, well-fertilized.
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Candy Roaster Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

A candy roaster squash in a garden bed.

RDPixelShop / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

This hard-to-find smaller heirloom variant of candy roaster squash hails from northern Georgia and is beloved by gardeners due to its stunning (and delicious) smooth orange flesh with green accenting. It's an annual veggie that is perfect baked, fried, or incorporated into rich, delicious pies.

Sow these heirloom seeds directly after the last frost and be sure to allow them room to grow; their vines can grow over 10 feet long. Harvest when the stem turns brown and hardens around three to four months later — the squash should feel hard, too.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 12.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Sandy, fertilized.
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Tennis Ball Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

This type of heirloom bibb or butterhead lettuce is aptly named, with its heads growing only four to six inches in diameter. With a healthy bright green glow, they look perfect for throwing into a salad or elevating the plating of your dinner party fare. These heirloom seeds are documented as having been grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson, and are listed in the Slow Foods Ark of Taste.

This annual grows well in rows — plant seeds just one inch apart.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 19.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose, moist, but well-draining.
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Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus x A. powellii)

This purpleish red beauty was originally grown as a dye plant by the southwestern Hopi Nation, and has the reddest seedlings of any amaranth known. The flowers of their long heads can be used as dye matter, but also offer edible seeds and greens in addition to the value of their ornamental beauty in your garden. Sow the seeds of these annuals just after last frost with barely any soil on top, and be sure to keep the soil moist.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 19.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose, moist, but well-draining.
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Kurzer's Calico Traveler Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus)

These plump pretty lima beans comes in a kaleidoscope of colors and originated in Choctaw, Mississippi. Not only are they lovely to behold, they're very hardy annuals and productive, too, delighting gardeners with their bountiful crops. Sow these heirloom seeds three to four weeks after your area's average date of last frost, when the daytime temperature is around 65 degrees. Be sure to thin the plants four to six inches apart after the first signs of germination begin to appear.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining, ample organic matter.
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Easter Basket Mix Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus)

This seed mix contains 15 heirloom varieties of some of the most colorful radishes out there. They are easy to grow, and besides yielding a lovely-looking crop, they offer an appetizing range of textures, too.

Radishes have the benefit of growing fast — you can harvest them as soon as three weeks after planting. They prefer consistent, even moisture, so consider putting a light layer of mulch around your plantings to help them lock in moisture during dry spells. They're annual, or sometimes biennial.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, sandy, even moisture.
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Succotash Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris)

This ancient bean originating from the Narragansett American Indian tribe of Rhode Island germinates into a marvellous rich purple color. Each bean is around the size of a dime, and was traditionally used in northeastern indigenous succotash. Ideally grown in the north due to its ideal climate for their germination, coastal locations of the north are known to yield even healthier crops of this annual bean.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Clay or loamy, fertile, well-draining.
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Early Wonder Beet (Beta Vulgaris)

Early wonder beets in an outdoor container.

Lori Hutchinson / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While there are many beautiful beets to choose from, early wonder beets are among the oldest of these annuals — they're a pre-1811 variety. Besides their tasty root, they produce an abundance of tall tender greens that you can swap for kale or spinach, too.

These beets take 50 days to mature and yield two to three inch beetroots. Beets prefer acidic soil, so if you only have a rocky or heavier clay variety around, try adding some wood ash — its potassium will enhance root growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, slightly acidic.
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Brad's Atomic Grape Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum)

These tomatoes live up to their cute, kitschy name with coloring that turns from lavender with purple stripes to a mix of brilliant olive-green, red, and brownish blue when fully ripe. This release from Wild Boar Farms won best in show at the 2017 National Heirloom Expo, and is grown like other vining grape tomatoes.

These sun worshipping annuals need around 6-10 hours of rays a day, and be sure to plant them as soon as the weather warms up in late spring — they can take up to 100 days to bear fruit.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose, well-draining, ample organic matter.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.