10 Heirloom Seeds for Dazzling Vegetables

Beautiful blue and red kernels of glass gem corn.

Jan De Bondt / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Heirloom, a descriptor most often used in the context of tomatoes, actually applies to any plant whose seeds are open-pollinated, meaning they've been produced through the natural pollination of a parent plant. This process keeps outside pollen from entering the patch; resulting in a truebred plant.

Heirloom seeds are often passed down through many generations and produce more flavorful food (modern seeds, alternatively, are designed to produce the highest possible yield and survive shipping and storage). But one of their most desired qualities is their unequivocal beauty—think: celery stalks that resemble rhubarb and multicolored corn kernels.

Try these 10 heirloom seed varieties for stunning and delicious veggies.

Warning

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.

1
of 10

Chinese Pink Celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum)

Chinese pink celery's most distinguishing quality is its neon-pink stalk. Like all Chinese varieties, it has a stronger pepper flavor than regular celery. It's slightly sweet and commonly served in high-end restaurants in northern China.

Chinese pink celery is a biennial—it germinates and grows the first year and blooms and dies the second year—but it is often grown as an annual: Like many other veggies, it should be started indoors and transplanted outside after the last frost. The plant prefers the moderate temperatures of spring and fall, but it's surprisingly tolerant of extreme temperatures, too.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, ample organic matter.
2
of 10

Glass Gem Corn (Zea mays var. indurata)

Close up of blue and yellow kernels of glass gem corn.

Jan De Bondt / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The kernels of glass gem corn heads are technicolor and translucent, shining like jewel-toned beads while also offering rich and delicious flavor. A variant of flint corn, this grain is grown and cultivated annually similarly to regular corn. A couple of weeks after the last frost, plant three to four seeds per hole, six to 12 inches apart.

Glass gem corn was originally grown by Cherokee and corn enthusiast Carl Barnes, who collected and farmed ancient corn varieties as a way to reconnect with and preserve his Native American heritage.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist but well-draining, well-fertilized.
3
of 10

Candy Roaster Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

A candy roaster squash in a garden bed.

RDPixelShop / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Rarely found on supermarket shelves, candy roaster squash is a pale-pink squash shaped like a banana with a blue or green tip. It hails from northern Georgia and is beloved by gardeners throughout the southeast for its tasty orange flesh—a great pie filling or soup ingredient.

Sow these heirloom seeds directly into soil after the last frost and be sure to give them space; their vines can grow more than 10 feet long. Harvest them 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.
4
of 10

Tennis Ball Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

This type of bibb is aptly named; its heads grow only four to six inches in diameter. Glowing a healthy bright green, tennis ball lettuces are perfect for throwing whole 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 Slow Food's Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of heritage foods in danger of disappearing.

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

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 19.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose, moist, but well-draining.
5
of 10

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus x A. powellii)

This purplish red beauty was originally grown as a dye plant by the southwestern Hopi Nation but is now often mixed with microgreens and eaten in salads. It adds ample color to a plate of greens, too, as it has the reddest seedlings of any other amaranth. The flowers of their long heads, the part of the plant used for dye matter, are widely loved for their ornamental value.

Sow the seeds of these annuals just after last frost with barely any soil on top, and be sure to keep the soil moist for optimal magenta blooms.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 19.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose, moist, but well-draining.
6
of 10

Kurzer's Calico Traveler Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus)

These unique-looking lima beans come speckled with a range of colors, from chocolate brown to burgundy. They reportedly hail from Choctaw, Mississippi, where they were passed down for generations within the Trussel family. In addition to their aesthetically pleasing innards, these bean plants are especially hardy and produce bountiful crops.

Sow these annuals three to four weeks after the last frost, when the soil temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 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.
7
of 10

Easter Basket Mix Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus)

This seed mix contains 15 heirloom radish varieties in vivid pink, deep purple, lavender, and white. They are easy to grow, and besides yielding a lovely-looking crop, they add a pop of color, pungent flavor, and crispness to summer salads.

Another plus, radishes grow fast—you can harvest them as early 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. Like Chinese pink celery, Easter basket mix radishes are biennial but are most often grown annually.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, sandy, even moisture.
8
of 10

Succotash Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

This ancient bean, traditionally used for succotash (a type of bean and grain salad) by the Narragansett American Indian tribe of Rhode Island, germinates into a marvelous rich purple color. The pods contain dime-sized, plum-colored beans that closely resemble corn kernels. The northern U.S. provides the ideal climate for succotash bean germination, and coastal areas are known to yield even more abundant crops of this annual bean.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Clay or loamy, fertile, well-draining.
9
of 10

Early Wonder Beet (Beta vulgaris)

Early wonder beets in an outdoor container.

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

Beets, with their scarlet taproots and pink-stemmed tender greens, are beautiful in general, but the early wonder beet is more than beautiful: It's also among the oldest of these annuals, dating back to the early 19th century. As is the case with all beets, both parts of the plant—the red root and the leaves—are edible.

Early wonder beets take about 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, you can use potassium-rich wood ash to encourage root growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, slightly acidic.
10
of 10

Brad's Atomic Grape Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

These heirloom tomatoes live up to their charming name with coloring that turns from lavender with purple stripes to a mix of brilliant olive-green, red, and brownish blue when fully ripe. Speaking of the name, it hails from their creator, Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms in Napa Valley, California. The multicolored nightshades are so impressive they won best in show at the 2017 National Heirloom Expo.

These sun-worshipping annuals are grown like your average vining grape tomato. They need around six to 10 hours of sun 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.