The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.~ Gertrude Jekyll
For those of you that are newish to veggie gardening, it’s easy to be a little befuddled by the distinction between heirloom and hybrid seeds. So to try and clear things up, here’s the simplest explanation I could muster.
Heirloom seeds have been collected and sown over many generations and will produce subsequent generations from seed that will be just like the parent plant. Heirloom varieties are often well suited to a particular growing area and are usually not seen on your supermarket shelf. Often vastly superior in flavour and vigour, fresh from the veggie patch will always be best. So the bonus with heirloom seeds is, what you eat is what you get. You can save the seed and use it year after year.
Hybrids are a crossing of existing plant varieties, in an attempt to breed a new variety for a particular benefit. The seed collected from the resulting fruit or vegetable (or flower or tree) will not necessarily be true to type. For example, second generation seed collected from a hybrid corn plant, might produce corn that looks or tastes different to the parent. Supermarkets usually sell hybrid stock, breed to be disease and pest resistant, uniform in size and shape, that can be stored and handle well without spoiling. Taste is usually far down the priority list.
If you are wondering what GE or GM seed is, or what the dreaded terminator gene is, they’re topics for another (likely ranty) post. But briefly, it is seed that has been genetically tweaked and is actually patented or licensed to protect the intellectual property of the company that created it. The terminator gene creates so called “suicide seeds”. The second generation of any plant with the terminator gene is sterile, so the company ensures the farmer needs to buy fresh seed from them each year.
Luckily, there are many seed suppliers committed to providing quality heirloom seeds. While you may not always find them available at your local garden centre, they are increasing in popularity and are easily purchased online and delivered to your door. My two favourite suppliers (in Australia) are Diggers and Beautanicals, but there are many more. These businesses are more often family owned enterprises committed to their cause and deserving of our support.
What is your best success heirloom variety story? Have you ever “rescued” a particular variety or had seeds handed down from generation to generation?