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Gardening is not an exact science and can be very complicated. Misinformation passed along from generation to generation only adds to the complication. Most people are content to plant a packet of straight neck yellow squash, follow packet instructions, and hope for the best. This is good.
Other people want to know as much as they can about the straight neck yellow squash. They want to know the best variety. They want to get the highest yields of the best tasting, most disease and pest free squash they can possibly grow. This is good, too. It's also where things can get complicated.
I am no horticulturist, nor even a master gardener. I do research a lot to broaden my knowledge of gardening. I hope, in this post, to clear up a few misconceptions pertaining to heirloom seeds versus hybrid seeds, And since the subject is very complicated, I hope no important facts are lost or misconstrued due to my oversimplification.
If you want an exact copy of a plant, as far as I know, there is only one way to get that exact copy. That way is to clone the plant. Cloning is usually accomplished by taking a piece from the plant and rooting it.
The term 'heirloom' is not exact, either. Requirements which must be met for a plant, or it's seed, to qualify as 'heirloom' varies from country to country. Heirloom seed are said to produce plants that are 'true to type' or the same as the parent plant. That's not exactly true, either. But since a DNA analysis might be required to tell the differences, these differences are not important to the average home gardener. Brandywine is an heirloom tomato. You plant Brandywine seed, you get Brandywine tomatoes with all the minor variations in that variety of tomato.
Here is my definition of an heirloom plant, and I am open to correction. An heirloom plant has been around for several generations. You might say that it's genetic information is 'fixed'. It is programmed to produce a near exact copy of the parent plant. It does not revert back to earlier types that eventually came to make up this particular plant.
A hybrid plant is an entirely different matter. A hybrid is a cross between two different varieties of, usually, the same plant. You can cross variety 'A' with variety 'B' and get variety 'C'. This variety 'C' will hopefully have all the best characteristics of both its parents.
Here is an important fact about hybrids. Their genetic information is not 'fixed'. If you plant 'C' seeds, you will get 'C' plants. But since their genetic information is not fixed, planting the seeds from 'C' plants will not result in a 'C' plant. With each successive planting, the resulting plant will be less like the original 'C'
I hope this account will help. I purchased a tomato from a local grocer. It was the best tomato I ever tasted. It's appearance was near perfect. I kept the seed from this tomato and planted them the following year. The tomatoes from that planting were very good, but not quite as good as the original. I saved their seed, anyway, and planted them the following year. This third planting resulted in a tomato that was nothing like the original tomato I purchased. I did not keep seed from this third planting. I am sure this tomato was a hybrid since it's seed did not produce a 'true to type' plant. It's genetics were not fixed.
So, if each year, you buy a new packet of hybrid tomato seed, how do you always get the same tomato, considering that hybrid genetics are not fixed? Simple. Each year, hybridizers cross variety 'A' with variety 'B' to get a fresh supply of variety 'C', This is called an 'F1 hybrid'.
Why hybridize? Well, you may have the best tasting tomato, ever. It has one problem, though. It is highly susceptible to a particular tomato disease. A hybridizer will cross this tomato with another known to be highly resistant to that disease in hopes of getting a tomato that kept it's best taste and has disease resistance, as well. Adding or deleting characteristics is the main reason to hybridize.
What prompted me to write this post was feedback in the post 'How Long Can You Store Seeds'? One person wrote: "If your tomatoes that you buy from the store are hybrid, the seed probably won't come up". I don't agree. Whether seeds are from heirloom plants or hybrid plants has no bearing on whether they 'come up'. I know from first hand experience, not only with tomatoes, but many different plants.
Should you buy heirloom, or hybrid seed? There's no best answer. In the case of tomatoes, if the heirloom 'Brandywine' suits you best, then buy that heirloom seed. If you prefer the hybrid 'Betterboy', then buy that hybrid seed. Keep in mind though, the heirloom family contains some of the best, fixed genetic information. So good, our forefathers chose to pass it along to future generations. All that information would be lost forever if we didn't continue to grow these plants, year after year.
There are officials of major entities, who would like it to be illegal for anyone to grow heirloom seed, simply because there's no profit in it for them. This must never come about. I state my position here and now: I will grow heirloom seed as I please, even at the risk of fines and imprisonment.
I wrote an article last week about Nature's Best Fertilizers and Insect Repellents. In the feed back section, there was a article about Genetically Altered or Hybrid seeds. Although I agree with some of what the writer wrote, I still believe that having a garden and working naturally in the garden is just good stewardship of our planet. In a time when money is so hard to come by and families are struggling, I stand by my position that growing a garden can help a family to survive these tough times. I must say that I am a loyal American with a son serving in the military along with his wife and I believe in our government. I don't always agree with the government but I still believe that they do try and keep us safe. I am also a Christian, believe in Armageddon and believe that some of our government is corrupted by power just as the Bible says. I believe that people should be prepared, if it is for a hurricane a tornado a flood or the end of the world. But I also believe that it is 2010 and that my family should eat healthy and save money today and for our future and try to undo some of what harm has been done to the planet.
Genetically altered seeds are qualified as safe by the FDA, but that does not mean that they are truly safe. According to my research, not enough tests and studies have been done to prove the safety issue one way or another. It is a fact though that, yes, most of these plants are sterile and seeds saved from them will not produce. I believe that every gardener should do their own research before they buy or plant anything. Try rooting an avocado seed, most of them won't root because they were genetically altered.
The good news is this, folks, and the whole reason that this article is named the way it is. For many years now, there have been folks that were concerned about genetically altered seeds! With the help of farmers and backyard gardeners, they have saved seeds from the plants that our grandparents used to grow. Remember the taste of Grandpa's tomatoes or the taste of the onions in Grandmas pickled onions? Well you can have them too! There are many companies that sell what is termed to be "Heirloom" vegetables and fruits. You can buy seeds from these companies online or through their catalogs. All of these companies certified that there seeds are open pollinating and are not genetically altered. These seeds have been collected for generations and some are no longer available but through these seeds banks. Any produce grown from this seed will reproduce and taste wonderful. I have included in this article websites that you can go to and see for yourself the methods they have used to collect and keep alive these wonderful plants. Read for yourself about genetically altered plants. You can also Google genetically altered plants and Wikipedia has a whole long explanation on how it is done.
But if you are like me and just want to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, if, like me, you want to enjoy the fruits of your labors, if, like me, you enjoy knowing that no man made chemicals were added to the food that goes into your body, then try some of these seeds and grow yourself a wonderful garden. Rejoice that you don't have to pay Walmart prices for your zucchini squash and share some with your neighbors, for the Lord said "Rejoice in this day for I have given it to you!"
Editor's Note: Here is the Wikipedia entry that Debra discusses:
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Can anyone recommend an excellent reference book concerning the proper harvesting, processing and storage of seeds/roots/cuttings of heritage/heirloom veggies and herbs for propagation? I'm looking for a book that covers each different veggie and herb separately, and in detail, as merely drying, sprouting, and replanting doesn't necessarily work for all.
I'm not seeking particular hardiness zone info as my priority is in learning the general concepts for the individual plants. If you know of a particular website, that would be very helpful too, but I'm hoping to find a good, old fashion, hard copy, book title, first and foremost. Thanks for anything you can share from positive, personal experience. -KansasCindy
Hardiness Zone: 6a
By Cindy from KS
The very best I've ever found on propagation is called Plant Propagation by DK American Horticultural Society, Alan Toogood Editor in chief c.1999. I'm quite sure you'll find everything you need and more including techniques for sowing, cuttings, grafting, division, layering of vegetables and other perennials and annuals, cacti and trees, etc. It's so complete and easy to understand with lots of beautiful pictures and detailed writing from real professionals.
Thank you so much, "prissyjp". I will look into this book. Still open to other suggestion from anyone, but very grateful for this starting point. Thanks again to you (and others) that respond on this site! The insight is incredible! Happy New Year!
* GOOGLE Search those 2 topics & you decide from there which appeals to you more.
* Your local library will have catalogues of material
* 90% of Gardening Club/Groups will have links to Seed Savers/Heritage/Collectable etc
* your local Organic/Health Food shop will be selling products sourced locally - there will be contact details on the labels
GOLD COAST - AUSTRALIA
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This year is my first year for trying heirloom gardening. I didn't harvest peas for eating this year because I learned a little too late that they like growing in cooler weather. Next year they will be planed and grown for food.
The other seed is spinach and I enjoyed 3 pickings from my spinach plants until they went to seed - they are also a cooler weather plant. We shall see how this heirloom gardening works out! It has been a learning experience, for sure!