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Heirloom vs Hybrid Seeds

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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.

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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.

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June 12, 20150 found this helpful

Editors,

Thanks for the picture. That could very well be my own hand.

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June 14, 20150 found this helpful

I think you've done a great job, Likekinds, of spelling out the difference between heirlooms and hybrids, but I'm not clear on whether you were talking about geneticially modified seeds (such as Monsanto forces down our throats). That said, if you can lay your hands on heirloom corn seeds, please publicize your source?

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June 15, 20150 found this helpful

Rose Anne Hutchence

Thanks, Rose. When I was putting together my little post, I hadn't even thought about genetically modified seeds. They really don't fit into an explanation of the differences between Heirloom and Hybrid seed.

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We would know Heirloom seeds are not genetically modified (except by nature, which is not uncommon) because they originated at a point in time when the technology wasn't available.

I hope I'm correct here, when I say,'Crossing two plants would not result in genetically modified seed as we think of it, instead, we would get a whole new set of combined genetics. The exception would be, if either or both parent plants contained genetically modified information. Then that altered information would (more than likely) be present in the resulting seed.

Offhand, I would have thought non gmo corn seed would be readily available. Now, looking back and remembering all I read, and all the documentaries I watched concerning how Monsanto, through genetic modification, would own the world's corn supply, I'm guessing it's probably not so readily available.

The documentaries I watched showed how it is almost impossible to keep your pure strain acreage pure, if there is gmo corn growing anywhere within miles of it, due to cross pollination caused by wind drifts.

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If the seed you seek (and I will look for it), is available, I will let you know. I'm sure it would be expensive due to the fact the suppliers would have to do constant testing to verify the seed was not recently contaminated.
Read this company's pledge and let me know what you think.

www.highmowingseeds.com/the-safe-seed-pledge.html

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June 15, 20150 found this helpful

Rose Anne Hutchence

By the way, you don't want to get me started on Monsanto. Years ago, I made a prediction. It still stands: If Monsanto and Google ever join forces, it will be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it. A time of much sorrow and bloodshed.

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June 17, 20150 found this helpful

If you're at all interested in heirloom seeds, check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at rareseeds.com.

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July 3, 20150 found this helpful

Great post!

Have you ever gone to the "Big" store and bought roasting ears? I made that mistake a few years ago. I got them home, boiled them up, and slathered butter on one.

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I took a big bite, having been waiting for the first sweet corn of the season, (couldn't grow any myself that year because of a surgery) and immediately ran to the trash can and spit it out. It tasted like a certain much-used herbicide smells...

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July 4, 20150 found this helpful

4TruLady

I looked at your brief profile hoping to see your first name. It was not there. For now, I christen you with the temporary nickname 'Trudy'.

Your feedback prompted me to read more about Wal-Mart and GMO corn. ( I have read a lot about Monsanto over the years and have several very disturbing documentaries concerning Monsanto).

I'm guessing you bought GMO sweet corn at a time when it was being marketed on a trial basis. This corn was genetically engineered by Monsanto to contain pesticides and tolerate herbicides. Why would it be designed to tolerate herbicides unless there were plans to use them on the corn. I have no doubt you tasted Roundup.

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I see so many of our American values slowly being eroded away. Unless the trend comes to a halt, we will be what we so often call some other countries, 'A Third World Country' With that in mind, there is still reason to hope.

It is pretty unlikely you will now find GMO corn in USA markets. ( If you do, it probably was shipped in from Canada). Why? The voice of America said NO! We don't want GMO foods! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

So, President Obama granted Monsanto immunity by signing into law the Monsanto Protection Act. A devastating blow for the American consumer? That's what I first thought. Now, I know it's not worth the paper it's written on. If need be, the voice of America can bring Monsanto to it's knees, with or without presidential immunity. Seems there's more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to render useless a presidential ruling.

These are the days.

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July 5, 20150 found this helpful

I answer to the name of Kate. I'm sorry about the briefness of my profile, but I am a more private person than some, and my husband even more so...hence no faces in the photos.

I do enjoy (almost) all of the articles I read on Thrifty Fun, especially those with helpful and/or positive comments, and I occasionally read a profile here and there--I enjoyed yours and thought your explanation of the name you chose was great.

As far as the corn nowadays goes, if I can't grow it myself or buy it from a friend, I don't go there. We don't eat much cornmeal, and I avoid like the plague high fructose corn syrup.

Although I do have strong feelings on the current administration in Washington, I wont comment or discuss it on here, as it's too difficult to remain "a lady" for long in that type of discourse...

Hope all T.F. friends are having a great weekend!

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Anonymous
March 31, 20160 found this helpful

This article really cleared up some of my curiosities regarding hybrids v. heirlooms so thank you! I had seen several heirloom varieties for sale where I buy my seeds that look great already, so when I stumbled upon hybrid seeds that claim to provide more "desirable" fruits, I wanted to understand more about hybrids before buying. Your info answered all of my questions and although I will not be able wo save the seeds from the hybrid crops I buy, at least I will get to enjoy some super tasty tomatoes! Ill put up the site that I usually shop for seeds at, sustainableseedco.com/.../ Thank you for taking the time to explain this!

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
March 31, 20160 found this helpful

This article really cleared up some of my curiosities regarding hybrids v. heirlooms so thank you! I had seen several heirloom varieties for sale where I buy my seeds that look great already, so when I stumbled upon hybrid seeds that claim to provide more "desirable" fruits, I wanted to understand more about hybrids before buying. Your info answered all of my questions and although I will not be able wo save the seeds from the hybrid crops I buy, at least I will get to enjoy some super tasty tomatoes! Ill put up the site that I usually shop for seeds at, sustainableseedco.com/.../ Thank you for taking the time to explain this!

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

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