Not sure how to get started with heirloom seeds? Here's how.

For insights on heirloom gardening, we checked in with Doreen Howard, the Illinois-based author of Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today's Cook.

What are heirloom seeds?

Often handed down within families, heirloom seeds predate 1940 and must be open-pollinated (spread naturally) and retain most traits of the parent plant. In other words, no hybrids.

Why grow heirlooms?

Heirlooms offer a dazzling variety of flavors, colors, shapes and sizes that hybridization often eliminates. Try unique varieties, like ‘Black Krim' tomatoes and ‘Amish Deer Tongue' lettuce. Because many originated in northern states, they adapt easily to a Midwest climate. They don't need as much water or fertilizer as hybrids.

What are the challenges?

Heirlooms aren't as disease-resistant as hybrids, meaning they're more susceptible to fungal infections and wilt. Use compost, shredded leaves and organic foods like alfalfa meal to build good soil.

Any other tips?

For quick germination, soak seeds in 1 quart of water mixed with 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide for two hours before planting. Sow seeds directly in the ground for best results.