Friday, January 27, 2023

Heirlooms, Hybrid, & Open-Pollinated Seeds

Old Mother Stollard an heirloom dried bean

It all begins with a seed, some soil, and a vision of a healthy, bountiful harvest.    What is the difference between open- pollinated, heirlooms, hybrids, and GMO seeds?  What is best for the backyard gardener? 

 "Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind:  for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved."  
George Washington

Plant a seed; reap the harvest! 

Types of Seed

Open-pollinated seeds (OP) are pollinated by wind or insects.  If you save seeds from OP plants the seeds will produce a plant that will yield fruits true to the type you obtained the seeds from.  All heirlooms (H) are open-pollinated, but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms.

Alcosa savoy cabbage a favorite hybrid I grow.

An heirloom (H) is an open-pollinated variety with a history.  They are generally a variety that is 40-50 years old that has been preserved and kept true to a particular region.  They have a beloved history and unusual shapes, colors, and flavors.  Seed saver organization and gardeners have kept heirlooms alive.  If you grow Brandywine tomatoes and save seeds from the best tasting, earliest ripening plants year after year, you would have a locally adapted strain of Brandywine different from other seed saver in other parts of the country. 

Yugoslavian Butterhead lettuce Heirloom from a peasant family in Marburg, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia). Introduced 1987 

Hybrids  F1 are a cross between two different parent plants. They are pollinated manually.  The resulting fruit has characteristics of both parents.  To continue to get that variety you must cross the original two parents; therefore, you cannot save seeds from hybrids.  The seeds will not be true to type and generally only first generation hybrids are vigorous, healthy plants.

One of my favorite heirloom tomatoes, Paul Robeson.

GMO’s are genetically modified organisms.  The DNA of the plant is modified by engineers for certain characteristics. For example, certain plants are modified to tolerant roundup so fields can be sprayed without killing the desired crop. GMO seed is very common in corn, rice, and soybeans.  There are health concerns about GMO seeds and they are banned in some countries. 

Two heirloom pie pumpkins Winter Luxury and Dickenson.

So what is the best type for the backyard gardener?  There is a place in my garden for heirlooms, hybrids, and open- pollinated varieties.  If you can grow it and you like to eat it, then stick with it.  I love trying new varieties along with family favorites.

 If you are saving seeds make sure it is from an open pollinated or heirloom variety.  The easiest seeds to save are from tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers and lettuce.  They are self-pollinating with less risk of cross pollination.

Seeds should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry environment.  Start with good quality seeds.  Cheap, old seeds have poor germination rates.  For best germination rates, replace seeds every 3 to 4 years.  I replace seeds every 4 year. Onion and parsnip seeds should be replaced every year.

Ready, Set, Plant!

When Soil Temperatures are between 45-75 its time to plant  cool season crops.