Would like to hear some discussion on using heirloom seeds. Why are you using them? Or Does it really matter
Linked several previous discussions on heirlooms versus hybrids below if you want to browse through them.
But do you mean true heirloom varieties or just open-pollinated varieties? True heirloom varieties (those more than 50 years old and with documented, traceable history) are limited but there are many open-pollinated varieties (aka Ops) available for most vegetables.
One of the biggest advantages to using OP varieties that is often mentioned is the ability to save your own seeds. That's why I use some of them plus I like to play a part in preserving some of the old lines and I often prefer their flavor. If cross-pollination is prevented or limited then, unlike hybrids, they will always grow true to form.
So does it matter? That depends on your goals - cost of seeds, availability of seeds, production desired, disease resistance desired, seed saving, the specific vegetable in question, etc.
Here is a link that might be useful: H vs h discussions
I prefer OP varieties for a number of reasons, the most important of which are:
1. Many varieties I like to grow are open pollinated because they are tried and true and there are a great many to choose from.
2. I like to save seed.
IMO, one of the most important aspects of heirloom vs hybrid is space. If you're planting a huge amount of stuff, heirloom makes a lot of sense from a seed saving standpoint as well as being able to produce a lot of food with that space. In areas where space is tight a hybrid may give you better/quicker production with less disease pressure.
That said, there's a lot of hybrids out there who's only perk to being a hybrid is it comes in a fancy color or growth habit...this may not do much for the production issue.
It's an issue to be taken on a crop-by-crop basis, imo.
There's hybrid brussels sprouts that run laps around heirloom sprouts, but the difference between many hybrid lettuces vs heirlooms can be rather moot unless you have specific disease pressures.
There are heirloom or open pollinated varieties that you might prefer over any hybrids available. If you think Kellog's Breakfast is the best tomato you ever tasted, and it's productive in your garden, then that's a good reason to grow it. The seed saving seems trivial to me for most gardeners. The cost of seed is a very small part of gardening, and if you wont' be able to buy hybrid seed some day, you better have lots of guns and lots of ammunition and a team of Navy SEALS to guard your compound, because there will be bigger problems than getting access to seed.
On the plus side, hybrids often have disease resistance bred into them, and are consistent from year to year. If you like Big Beef tomatoes - a great hybrid producer - you'll like them next year. Some open pollinated/heirloom varieties, like Cherokee Purple tomato, are not the same from seed seller to seed seller.
Personally, I think the best way to go is to try growing varieties regardless of hybrid/non-hybrid origin. If you like one, use it again. If you don't, try a new one next year. If you want to save seed of an open pollinated variety, go for it. If you don't, buy new seed next year. Seed sellers aren't going anywhere soon.
Call it open pollinated not heirloom.
There can be heirloom hybrids.
Definition of HEIRLOOM
1 : a piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance of real property
2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another
3 : a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals
If you're going to grow vegetable or fruits why not invest in Heirloom seeds? It just makes sense. They have a higher germination rate verses hybrids and their offspring are true to their heritage. If possible I would even look further and grow ancestral varieties they are the cream of the crop. I have some that date back to the 15th century. Such a wonder vegetable to grow
Here is a link that might be useful: ancestral varieties
I'll ask the unasked question. Just what is a hybrid?
If you loosely define a hybrid as any cross, perhaps most things we grow are hybrids...including humans. Some things like most varieties of fruit trees and such things as potatoes and sweetpotatoes are hidden crosses that are planted as clones.
Usually today we think of hybrids mainly as F1 first generation crosses. When it comes to broccoli, sweet corn and cantaloupes for example, I prefer the eating tastes of the hybrids.
Horticulturally/botanically speaking, since this is a gardening forum after all, there are very specific definitions of the terms hybrid, open-pollinated, heirloom and yes, even the nemesis "GMO" (which isn't even applicable to home gardening).
One good set of basic definitions is in the article linked below.
Here is a link that might be useful: Heirlooms vs. Hybrids: A Common-Sense Approach
Some vegetables are more likely to be available as OP than F1 hybrid and vice versa.
You will not find any F1 bean varieties for example, because production of F1 bean seeds is impractical. Performing the cross pollination of beans is simply too tedious.
There are lots of F1 hybrid corn and tomato varieties however, because large scale production of those seeds is relatively easy. Lots of OP corn and tomato varieties are available as well, so there are lots of choices, especially with tomatoes.
"If you're going to grow vegetable or fruits why not invest in Heirloom seeds? It just makes sense. They have a higher germination rate verses hybrids and their offspring are true to their heritage. If possible I would even look further and grow ancestral varieties they are the cream of the crop. I have some that date back to the 15th century."
No, restricting yourself to heirloom seed does not 'just make sense.' I see no problem with germination when I grow hybrid varieties - I have never seen patches in my rows. And why would you care whether their offspring are 'true to their heritage? You buy new seed next year for a small fraction of your total gardening costs. Do you actually let carrots and beets grow for two years just to get the seed? That's a huge waste of garden space. And finally, there is no inherent reason why 'ancestral' varieties would be the 'cream of the crop.' You may like them, and you may not, but through the centuries people selected what they wanted, and threw out the rest. Many old varieties would be rejected immediately today.
If you want to be a grower of exotic old crop varieties, be my guest. But the world gets fed today because those varieties were improved in production and disease resistence and flavor. I remember getting corn at a farm stand in the 1960s. Each time we bought corn, it was a gamble as to whether it would be sweet and tender or what my father called 'cow corn' tough and starchy. Today, with the sweet hybrids, the corn at the supermarket is as good or better than any that had just been picked in the fields before we drove up. And there is absolutely no arguing this. The hybrid sweet corn today is vastly better than what was available in my childhood.
I like the idea of some heirloom varieties. I would like to get to the point of selecting some vegetables that do better in my climate. I also like the possible diversity of some of the heirlooms whereas some heirlooms strike my fancy based on the story associated with them.
For other vegetables, I do not care much either way. I am not very likely to try and harvest my own cauliflower seed. Likewise, there are some vegetables where you need oh so many plants to prevent inbreeding. I am not likely to try gathering seeds for those, as I do not need that headache right now.
"I'll ask the unasked question. Just what is a hybrid?"
I think the best answer to this would be that a hybrid is an F1 cross where the F2 generation is not true to kind. A hybrid could also be sterile (aka seedless).
The main reason I prefer OP and Heirloom seed isn't so much because I want to have a seed bank saved up for the end of the world, but because we already have a problem with food crop monoculture.
For the sake of our foodcrops, we want a diverse, healthy genetic base to draw from. Many of the preferred hybrids get planted at the expense of older stable lines and have to be constantly recreated every year (re-crossed from the original parents).
This sort of thing is especially bad news in developing countries where they get food crop seed that is only good for one season's produce, forcing them to buy more seed for next year when they may not be able to afford it.
Plus there's the issue of disease within a monoculture. If something crops up (excuse the pun) that wipes out a hybrid that is widely planted, then all of them will be affected. OP and heirloom have a richer genetic blend and as such are more likely to have mutants that can withstand the new threat.
I'm also a hot pepper grower, and when it comes to something being called the new "hottest pepper in the world" I (and most others I've seen) always first ask "Is it stable?". If its a hybrid pepper that hasn't been stabilized (aka a cross that hasn't been planted out for enough generations to become OP), then we dismiss it's claims of heat. While it may actually be the hottest in the world, it isn't reliably reproducible, and hence isn't a valid entry.
OPs and heirlooms are just a better thing to have around in the long run. Especially if you think all carrots are orange, all tomatoes are red, and all corn is yellow. There is so much more out there than the bland "don't really appeal to everybody, just don't offend as many people as possible" hybrid types, and its a shame they don't get more recognition.
Fwiw, there's a reason in the US that farmers don't save corn seed.
It's not a conspiracy by seed/GMO companies...it's not a conspiracy by the government...
It's farmer preference.
Hybrid corns outpace open pollinated varieties. GMO corn costs less (mostly in field inputs) to produce. No matter what internet scare tactic or infographic on Facebook shared, it's just a fact. This is all farmer choice, not a choice forced by being backed into a wall. Corn bred for better soil condition tolerance, less water use tolerance...whether hybrid bred or GMO bred...it's preferred by the farmers. Not all farmers choose this, of course, but we're talking about 95-99% of the mass field growing market making this choice.
We're talking intensely cropped fields here, btw...not the home garden. IMO, it's a testament to seed savers that we still have such a huge diversity of OP corn seed out there because it's not coming from the mass acreage farmers.
Continuing on the subject of hybrids...
There's a lot of hybrids out there that are marketed in the home garden market that were bred for the mass producers. This can lead to be disappointed in your harvest as far as taste quality goes.
The "Juliet" grape tomato, for instance. Some people like this tomato...I don't. It was bred to reduce cracking, aka, it has a thicker skin...aka, it can make it to market intact with less field waste on the commercial scale. To me, this isn't "good eats" compared with some other grape tomatoes which aren't as good shippers or reliable producers of blemish-free fruits.
For us, the home gardeners, it can become a bit of a chore to sort through the hybrids on the market that are great for the home garden vs those that are very popular on the market on whole because of commercial demand.
Along with that, there's hybrids that produce brilliant colors (sometimes only a fraction of a shade more than an existing OP variety) which may not produce as well as less brilliantly colored varieties or even OP varieties.
If you're going to go hybrid for something, you gotta pick your seed source wisely. Is the color more important than production? Was it bred to be easily (mechanically, in the case of many bush-bred varieties) picked? Was it bred to be a better shipper? Is having a harvest time 5-10-15 days earlier important in your area at (sometimes) the expense of a better taste you can get from a "lesser" hybrid or OP variety?
Yesterday I visited a few sites of seed companies which supply farmers. These companies do not offer seed packets to home gardeners. They don't even publish prices on their web sites. You have to contact them and discuss your needs and probably negotiate a price. The varieties offered were unfamiliar to me.
It was interesting that the variety descriptions focused solely on yield, disease resistance, appearance, storage qualities and ability to withstand shipping. Nothing on flavor or eating quality. In other words, those varieties were bred to make it to the point of purchase in good, attractive condition. In most cases, making it to the table as a tasty dish was of no or minor importance.
This post was edited by jimster on Mon, Dec 10, 12 at 19:25
Duplicate post deleted.
This post was edited by jimster on Mon, Dec 10, 12 at 19:09
"Yesterday I visited a few sites of seed companies which supply farmers."
Why? Are you a farmer? The hybrid seed sold to gardeners - people who visit this site - are usually not the same as that grown by farmers. They have practical reasons for using the varieties they do. The best tomato I grew this year for taste and production was Lemon Boy. My family has been growing Lemon boy since the 1990s, and it never fails to produce and to produce a great eating tomato. Big Beef was a close second this year.
And the heirloom Cherokee Purple was my worst variety. The plant had a lot of double flowers, which produced double fruits which were hard to slice properly. And it was my single worst producer, not putting out many fruit, and succumbing to disease before any other.
Heirloom sees are not magic beans - there's nothing 'naturally' good about old varieties. Some are fantastic, and others went off the market for very good reasons. And all of that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of hybrids - which come, after all, from open pollinated lines. Seed companies spend a lot of money and years of effort trying to come up with a new variety that people will buy. They aren't out to destroy the planet's seed stock and take over the world, Dr Evil style.
I check agriculture, vs garden, seed sites on occasion just to see what is out there.
There is nothing wrong with it as it helps keep one informed on what is happening in agriculture as a whole.
A while back, quite a while actually, some farm seed sources were actually giving out sample field corn packs at the Minn. State Fair.
There's a lot of hybrids that start as farm supply...stuff that starts off with names like "CF 2891" and later become "OMG Super Sweet Awesome Corn" once they hit the general consumer market.
I assume the Heirloom is the old ancient plants. Personally It does not make much difference if the seed isHeirloom or not. With the final out come I did not notice any difference.
Heirloom/Open Pollinated are used interchangeably by most people who grow vegetables...though some would argue you need some historic value or time distance on it's discovery/stability before you call something a "heirloom."
They're not scientific terms. All heirloom seeds are OP, but some would argue not all OP seeds are heirlooms. *shrug* Some people stick by "heirloom" being a line you can draw in the pre-hybrid popularization era of the 1950s. I, personally, think this doesn't hold up unless you want to ignore some semi-recent developments in veggies we enjoy such as the sugar snap (late 1970s).
To add more confusion...some people, especially in the flower and tree fruits world, will say a heirloom is something far out of "normal" cultivation...a heritage line.
This post was edited by nc-crn on Tue, Dec 11, 12 at 22:43
Heirloom used for seeds by companies is just a sales gimmick--period. Whether something, actually anything is an heirloom or not is up do individuals emotion to decide .
So open pollinated and heirloom ARE NOT interchangeable terms
I prefer to say "open pollinated" but if someone in a conversation with me calls them "heirlooms" I just let it slide.
Very few people I've run into want to have the "OP vs heirloom" conversation...thankfully.
Either way 99.9% of the time we know we're talking about hybrids that don't come true to type from seed vs non-hybrids that do.
"Why? Are you a farmer?"
No. I'm not a farmer. I came across those sites while searching for certain varieties of a couple of vegetables. I found the sites interesting, although not directly helpful to my gardening.
"The hybrid seed sold to gardeners - people who visit this site - are usually not the same as that grown by farmers."
That's right. I thought my comments indicated that but maybe not. I found very few, if any, "home gardener" varieties on those "farmer" sites.
"...there's nothing 'naturally' good about old varieties. Some are fantastic, and others went off the market for very good reasons."
Technically, yes. But the good ones have stood the test of time for very good reasons. We no longer have the ones nobody cared enough about to maintain them year after year for many decades. Some of the newer hybrids will disappear eventually too.
"And the heirloom Cherokee Purple was my worst variety."
I don't doubt that it was -- according to your criteria. But Cherokee Purple is very popular, so there must be something to like about it. It's good that we have so many varieties to choose from, both hybrid and open pollinated.
"Seed companies spend a lot of money and years of effort trying to come up with a new variety that people will buy."
Yes, they do. However, the goals of breeding are different for the home gardener than for the mass market grower. You and I do not pick our tomatoes green for shipping to distant warehouses where they are gassed to "ripen" them as needed.
"They aren't out to destroy the planet's seed stock and take over the world, Dr Evil style."
I agree with you. I wasn't trying to make that argument. Occasionally a popular hybrid will be taken off the market however, for one reason or another. And, since it can be produced only by the owner of the parent varieties, it is lost to the home gardener.
I grow some hybrids but often prefer open pollinated ones because of the qualities which others before me have found desirable and caused them to be preserved for a long time. Yellow crookneck squash for example, was grown long before the pilgrims arrived and, IMO, tastes better than any other summer squash. Some of the best beans are pole beans, which are not grown commercially because they cannot be mechanically harvested. It's no problem for me to harvest them manually. In fact, it is easier on my back to harvest pole beans than bush beans. :-)
Seed saving, possible only with open pollinated varieties, is important to me also. Cost of seeds is no longer negligible either at $3.00 or more per small packet. And seed for some of my favorite varieties is available only from seed savers.
I farm and so I choose on a crop to crop basis. Some crops do not perform for me as OP in the main season, such as spinach, Napa cabbage, baby pak choi, broccoli, cauliflower. Other crops I see no reason to grow hybrids for the most part: cucurbits, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, legumes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets.
OP sweet corn is just not sweet enough. I grow hybrid se or Triplesweet. I save a lot of seeds and like to reduce my seed bill if I possibly can, but still grow the hybrids I mentioned. I DO NOT grow any hybrids from Seminis/Monsanto. I trust Fedco when ordering both hybrids and OP because they only sell hybrids not from evil GMO companies.
Jim - all excellent points above. Well, and tactfully, said. I would have said something like Lemon Boy? You are kidding right? But to each his own.
I prefer to say "open pollinated" but if someone in a conversation with me calls them "heirlooms" I just let it slide.
Very few people I've run into want to have the "OP vs heirloom" conversation...thankfully.
I prefer the opposite approach and in my assignments as a Master Gardener and teacher (not to mention on the forums here) I find many folks who are interested in learning the difference. For two reasons:
1)Because the seed companies use the label 'heirloom' as a hype marketing ploy and often charge more for the seeds even when they are NOT heirlooms. Inaccurate use of the two terms by the public only encourages that practice.
2)Because seed saving, as well as preserving the old lines, is very important to many people for lots of different reasons that range from costs to convenience to preferred taste to survival in times of need.
The average suburban home gardener can easily spend $50-$100 or more annually on seeds alone. Rural large home gardeners can easily double that amount. Plus shipping costs for seed orders have more than doubled in the past 5 years. That expense sort of defeats one of the goals of growing one's own food.
It isn't the complicated issue some make it out to be and it only takes a few minutes to learn what the correct labels mean.