Don’t Let Your Seeds Grow up to be Hybrids

April 28, 2009

Just in case the previous article describing some of the vegetable varieties I’m growing this season didn’t inspire you to investigate a  few heirloom seed choices, today I’ll share some of the reasons that hybrid vegetable seeds aren’t high up on my shopping list.

First I’ll admit to planting a hybrid variety or two in my garden, but there have to be pretty compelling reasons and an exceptional plant involved to cause me to go against my better judgment like that. And while open pollinated plants aren’t perfect, I prefer to grow them for a number of very good reasons:

Top Ten Reasons for Planting Heirlooms in the Veggie Garden

1. Never met a GMO that I liked – GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms and that really doesn’t sound like something I want showing up on the dinner table. I simply don’t trust GMO’s or the motives behind them, and I’m curious to see the arguments that will be used to try and convince us that GMO’s are better for us.

2. Too thrifty to pay for seeds every year – It’s bad enough to get hit with debit card transaction fees and cable bills, but do you want to be suckered into paying each year for something else that we used to be able to get for free? Heirlooms provide the convenient and cost-free option of saving your own seeds if you’d like.

3. No fine print or disclaimers required – The new hybrids will draw you in with features such as modern blossoms, designer colors, and other surprises, but will they also advertise if it just so happens that the new improvements are a trade off for less in the way of flavor, aroma, hardiness, or nutritional content? Hmmm.

4. Seed competition is a good thing – If a monopoly is such a bad thing, consider the thought of giant seed conglomerates making all the decisions about what seeds should be grown, which ones should be discontinued or eliminated altogether, and whether you should have the right or ability to save seeds from the plants that grow in your own garden.

5. Our great grandparents had excellent taste – They never had to listen to someone reminiscing about good, old-fashioned flavor in a tomato… all of their tomatoes were good, old-fashioned tomatoes with that true tomato flavor!!! The need for such comparisons were basically admissions that the breeders had ruined a good thing when it came to tomato taste.

6. New and Improved is overrated – Yeah, I saw that list of incredible new hybrids coming to market this year, it just didn’t excite me all that much since I always get to choose from a long list of “new” and interesting vegetable varieties thanks to the unique offerings from the heirloom suppliers and seed exchanges.

7. I’m a gardener, not a farmer – Maybe I’d be more concerned with thick skins, uniformity, and the shipping capabilities if I was a farmer, but I’m a backyard gardener. I prefer varieties that ripen over a long season rather than all at once, and my tender produce doesn’t need to travel any further than from the garden to the kitchen counter. I’m much more interested in gourmet quality, vine ripened harvests, and freshness than I am with the important commercial qualities.

8. Purple carrots are so cool – Not only purple carrots, but red, white, yellow, and orange ones too. And these colorful carrots (along with other unusual vegetables) have all been around for ages, but try explaining that to your local grocer the next time your want something a little different for dinner.

9. Seeds and strings build strong muscles – So what if I have to spit out a melon seed or expend a little effort to peel strings from a bean pod the way I remember doing as a child? I can always chalk it up as exercise. And explain to me again how a plant that is bred to be sterile and is too weak and unnatural to produce even a single seed is going to be viable and potent when it comes to nutritional content?

10. Giving credit where credit is due – Then there are the patented plant varieties with their labels warning that you will turn into a criminal the second you attempt to propagate or share a cutting or two. I have no problem with a breeder being compensated for their labor, but how do you take something that the Almighty created, alter it to some degree, and then tell gardeners that it’s your property and they can no longer do what they’ve always had the liberty to do with their plants?

Thanks, but no thanks, I think I’ll pass… I’m actually quite content and happy with my open pollinated heirlooms.





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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan April 28, 2009 at 6:39 pm

You make some great points…especially with #10!! I think I’ll start paying a little more attention to the seeds that I buy.

Luke May 1, 2009 at 12:28 am

I appreciate your thoughts. I am new to gardening and I bought all heirloom seeds. I felt a little buyer’s remorse when I started surfing and saw everyone talking about all these varieties I didn’t have. You’ve reinforced why I bought heirlooms to begin with. Thank you.

Ken Rice May 1, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I’ve been gardening for 45 years and have seen the price of a packet of seed go from 10 cents for an ounce of seed to $4.50 for 10 seeds. Add to that they are hybrid’s so you have to buy new seed every year. In fact some of the seed companies are offering the same variety with different customized names. Sort of like the drug companies issuing the same prescribed medicines under different names. I have grown hybrids before but due to the cost and the limitations of my choice I am reverting to the ol’ time method of seed saving non-hybrids. At least I’ll get more than 10 seeds!

kookster May 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Such great points kenny!

some plants seem to get more acclimated to the microclimate after they’ve been grown in it year after year. If you can’t save seed you can’t take advantage of that. Go heirlooms!

Kayla May 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm

One caution possibly about heirlooms. I called and talked to the horticulturist at “Totally Tomatoes” catalog co. and asked why heirlooms perform poorly for me. He asked how warm are the nights here in Kansas. I replied that they often stay in the 80′s and 90′s in summer. He said the heirlooms usually need cool nights to set blossoms so he recommended some of the sunbelt types of plants which did perform well. Find heirlooms that perform well in your planting zone.

Ken May 3, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Kala, you’re right about some heirlooms needing cool nites…but not all of them. Homestead, Marmande, Rutgers, and Marglobe have done well for me in Georgia. When you read blogs from various folks on how well their heirlooms did, try to determine where they are blogging from. That could give you an idea if that variety will do well in Kansas. I think the secret in hot climes is to get them in early before the heat of summer postpones the pollination. Even yet, all varieties seem to take a beating here in Georgia in mid summer.

Kenny Point May 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm

That’s an interesting point Kayla and one that I believe is actually yet another advantage of heirloom and open pollinated plants that the other commenters have touched on. A little research can uncover heirloom varieties that have a history and reputation of growing well in specific climates or regions of the country. Even hybrids are going to have some conditions or cultivation methods under which they grow the best, and others where they may struggle. And as Kookster mentioned, you can grow out and save seed from open pollinated varieties to create strains that are uniquely adapted to the conditions found right in your own back yard, something that you can’t do as easily with hybrids.

Kayla May 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments on heirlooms. They look so inviting, I will try to find ones that do well in warmer climes.

David June 2, 2009 at 2:42 pm

You said it Brother

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