Heirlooms, Hybrid’s And Seed Savers

The term Heirloom seed/variety, is not well defined. Heirloom is arbitrarily applied to seeds and plants by growers and sellers based in their personal beliefs of what qualifies to be called a Heirloom plant. Plants dating back 25, 50, 60, 75 and even 100 years(To a time before wide spread experimental hybridizing began) has been used in dating plants to determine if a variety should be identified as an Heirloom variety.

Most Heirloom growers do agree that in general the definition of an Heirloom is a cultivar that was/has been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not now used in modern large scale farming. Most growers do agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated varieties.
Seed Savers Be Ware Open-pollinated plants also means that they can easily be cross-pollinated. Bee’s or wind drifted pollen can and often does pollinate you ‘heirloom’ plants. Pollen donated by hybrid’s or by a different variety of heirloom plant near by can be a problem. Even you without knowing can introduce a different variety’s pollen by brushing against the plants and moving pollen from plant to plant on your clothing.

Seed producers, seed sellers and wholesale seed distributors, will never tell ‘You’ the buyer that the seeds you are paying a premium for may in fact be an accidental cross-pollinated (hybrid) seed. Unless your seed(s) were produced under highly controlled, filtered, enclosed, insect free conditions you can not be assured you are getting a true, pure package of ‘Heirloom’ seed. I don’t think this should be of big concern for home or commercial growers. Heirlooms of today were selected by nature under Darwins {Survival of the fittest} theory. Don’t let any seed seller tell you this is a pre-historic variety, because it is not. Even ‘Heirlooms’ favor evaluation over time, adapting to soil, insect, disease and weather growing conditions.

Some heirloom growers swear that ‘their’ heirlooms are more hardy, take less water and fertilizer and taste better than modern hybrids. I think this is mostly an unintended deception being perpetrated on seed buyers. The true fact is most heirlooms have little resistance to many of the fungus, bacterial and virus infections found in home gardens. In close growing conditions, these plant diseases are passed from plant to plant by insects, in the soil and even carried on the wind from plant to plant.

Heirlooms taste better! Maybe, maybe not. I truly don’t think most consumers can tell much if any difference in taste when both a heirloom and a hybrid are allowed to become fully vine ripe before picking and consuming that produce. The so called cardboard taste we consumers find in supermarket fruits and vegetables is mostly caused by timing of produce picking and the consumers them self’s in demanding their supermarket shelf being fully stocked with hundreds of varieties of ready to eat produce, 365 day’s a year. I know of no vine ripe fruit or vegetable that can stand up to being picked when fully ripe, shipped thousands of miles and placed on supermarket shelf for many days before reaching the consumer.

Don’t go postal on me. I grow a few heirloom varieties, but, most of what I grow is hybrids. They are easy to find at my local nursery. Heirloom are not so easy to find locally. It is a choice that I make when choosing my garden seed and seedlings. You have the same opportunity. Select, plant and grow what makes you the happiest.

Just keep in mind, that the main reason heirlooms came to exist was more an economical reason than that of plant hardiness or taste. Few people could afford to buy new seed every year. Many places seed was in short supply and hard to come by. Many times farmers and gardeners lived many miles from towns and traveled by horse, buggy or wagon. The solution to this problem was a simple one. Save seed from this years crop to plant next year. It became common for family members, friends and neighbors to give away excess seed or to trade for plant seed they did not have but wanted or need to grow to feed their families.

Why is common sense so uncommon?
Don’t be Shy. Leave me your comment(s)


9 responses to “Heirlooms, Hybrid’s And Seed Savers

  1. these are interesting questions. about a month ago i interviewed a guy for a project i’m working on – he’s the head of research at one of the the federal agriculture bureau’s research stations (not in the US – i’m overseas). we talked for a long while about definitions of ‘hybrid’ and ‘heritage,’ which i continued looking into after our interview, and i have to say that my ideas on what is “natural” have completely changed. hybridization is something humans have being doing since agriculture began because edible plants in the wild have evolved in ways that are not necessarily helpful to humans’ specific needs and desires. (wild wheat is one example, apples are another.) what we call “heritage” varieties are in no way natural — they’ve been cultivated for generations, and many if not most would have a hard time surviving in the wild. note that hybrid does not equal GMO. every single apple cultivated by human hands is a hybrid, whether it has an organic sticker or not – wild apples are rock hard and sour as hell. the guy i interviewed also pointed out that heritage does not necessarily equal hardier or more nutritious. here in switzerland, for example, we’ve got a country filled with mountains and micro climates, and so farmers throughout the centuries have been selectively saving seeds that resulted in varieties perfectly adapted to a specific location. when switzerland started archiving seeds in the 1950s, these varieties were collected and used for study on how to breed broccoli, for example, that thrives outside of, for example, the Grindelwald valley. in my opinion scientists working on plant hybridization (repeat: not GMOs!) are doing the exact same thing i do when i save the seeds from a particularly good squash to plant the following year. the scientists are just doing it in a more methodical manner. also, for what it’s worth, the swiss agriculture bureau produces hybrid plants that are not under patent and that have seeds that can be used the following year. and there you have the difference between non-profit and for-profit research…


    • Re Kate – Thanks for taking time to visit my little blog and for your useful Comment(s).
      Your right, many people cant/don’t grasp the concept’s of hybridizing, open pollination, grafting, rooting of selected fruit cuttings (like apple and grapes) and that GM / GMO is a totally different approach to seed modification.
      Happy and Safe Holiday Season


  2. My Watering Can

    There are lots more factors to this issue, such as diversity and water consumption. Monsanto endangers the diversity of the world seed supply (they 1/4 of the seeds in the world), by patenting them and taking them off the market. With monoculture comes a huge host of problems. Let’s look at another issue to illustrate: “weed” trees. When settlers first came to this continent, they hacked down all the diverse forests and replaced some of them with douglas fir. Douglas fir is native and grows just fine, but as a mono-crop, it is a huge problem. It grows lightning quick and uses excessive amounts of water. It’s caused drought in the Lake Tahoe basin. Now let’s look at mono-crops with hybrid or GMO seeds. They are formulated to grow huge, and faster than typical heirlooms. They use excessive amounts of water also. And because they’re a mono-crop, are subject to mass destruction (like the potato blight in Ireland).
    I’ve been disappointed with a couple varieties of heirloom seeds I’ve grown, but it was largely due to weather. They were still edible but some had split. They wouldn’t sell in a store, but they were perfectly useable. Heirloom varieties are no problem for cross pollination unless you want to save your own seeds. Peppers flowers need to be bagged to prevent this, for example. Some people are willing to go the extra effort to preserve a variety for future use, and to end dependence on corporate farming. Patenting seeds is also a huge issue, and people who keep heirloom varieties struggle to keep Monsanto from wiping out anything left of diversity. People are used to seeing perfectly sized rows of fruits and veggies in their markets, perfect veggies in perfect rows in their gardens. But those things are not reality. And as for nutrition, you cannot compare heirloom with hybrids or GE seeds. Folks who grow heirloom are likely to take much better care of their soil, feed their plants naturally (instead of chemically), and that has an absolute effect on taste. If BigAg were to nourish the soil adequately, and not spray crud on them, and not pick them too early, and not ship them all over, they might have a fair chance at tasting a lot better too. This is one reason so many people say to buy local. Heck, I have a big bag of apples sitting in my fridge that I bought in early September that looks the same as the day I bought it. Whereas, the organic ones I picked from our community garden orchard don’t look gorgeous, some go bad here & there (if they’ve been punctured even slightly). But it makes me say, what did they do to those apples to give that extensive of shelf life? If they are truly nutritious, those nutrients break down easily. Nutrients equal flavor. So it’s apparent to me they don’t have as much nutrition and were preserved with nasty waxes and such. Are those producers evil? No. They do what they can to provide the country food. But it’s up to us, as gardeners, to preserve what’s truly good and nutritious. haha I should’ve made my own post and just provided a link.


    • Re My Watering Can – Big Grin – I’m glad you decided to express yourself on my humble little blog.

      Many people, even I sometime get down on Monsanto and their patenting of seed technology.
      However, I have a hard time finding fault with Monsanto and other AG Business for using every legal process available to them to protect their multi-million dollar investments from being stolen and used by others to produce products that com-peat with technology they have developed.

      Big Smile … Try spreading a few thousand tons of cow manure on large acreage farms.
      See how long it takes your (So called Good neighbors) to file law suits against you for air and or water pollution!
      Happy seed saving


  3. If you want to save your seed and have it remain true to type, you should grow heirloom. I try to avoid supporting the large corporate seed suppliers and instead buy from small family owned businesses. Regaurdless of what type of seed you buy or where you buy them, the most important aspect is that you grow your own! I grow what I can myself, what I don’t grow I buy from local farmers and my last resort is to buy at the grocery store. Never buy food from Walmart 🙂


    • Re absupertramp – Thanks for taking time to visit my humble blog.
      I’m not a Walmart fan and I am seldom a Walmart Customer. With that said I really don’t think Walmart is any better or worse than many of the other Super sized supermarkets.
      Happy Holidays


  4. Gotta disagree with you about heirloom varieties. While it is indeed true that tomatoes need to vine ripen to have the best flavor, some heirloom varieties do not taste the same as vine-ripened hybrids. I’ve grown both. You may be limited by your location, I am close to Mexico, where they originated.


  5. Heirloom tomato varieties work very well for me. They taste wonderful and better than hybrid types. Nothing to do with supermarket storage- I’m talking about a comparison between those in my back yard.
    The beauty of saving your own seed, other than economy, is that the seed seems to adapt to your microclimate, becoming hardier and more virile after a while. I have a particular variety of lettuce that I have kept going for 20 years. and I do save my best tomato seed.


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