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Hybrid vs. Heirloom

Heirloom Tomatoes from Summer of 2010

A couple of years ago I became fascinated by heirloom seeds. It started while I was looking through a seed catalog. I came across the term ‘heirloom’ with beautiful pictures of tomatoes in a rainbow of colors and all shapes and sizes. They weren’t the plain Jane red and round tomato I had always known. I wondered what it was all about and how this ‘heirloom’ differed from ‘hybrid’.

Previously I had heard that you couldn’t save the seeds from the vegetables in your garden because they wouldn’t give you the same ‘fruit’. It would be edible, but not necessarily have the same characteristics as the parent plant. These are what are known as hybrid seeds. Most of the plants you buy at the home and garden center are grown from hybrid seed such as Early Girl or Big Boy tomatoes. They come from parent plants that have been specifically cross bred for particular traits like size, color, and abundance of crop.

It is only within the last year that I have seen home and garden centers selling plants termed ‘heirloom’. Heirloom or what are also called ‘open pollinated’ plants, naturally produce fruit with seeds that when you grow the seeds they almost always produce a plant with fruit that is like the parent plant. It takes many generations of seeds to produce something that is possibly different from the original plant. Some say the taste of an heirloom fruit is better than that of a hybrid, but that is all a matter of opinion.

There are many ‘seed saver’ farms that carry on the legacy of these seeds. You can find them all over the internet. I have bought heirloom seed from quite a few of them. Heirloom seeds originate from all over the world. This last summer I grew many different types of heirloom tomatoes. My most favorite are the large ribbed ones that when you slice them they have a marbled red, yellow, and orange center. I tried Green Zebra tomtoes that were small and very tart tasting. The flavor reminded me of a lemon. I also grew the Paul Robeson tomato that is a large purple one. That had a very interesting green and purple flesh inside. I’m so excited to start my new plants that my mouth is starting to water as I think about it!

You can learn how to save your own heirloom seeds with a book called Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. Take a look at it on my MARKET page. This summer I will be using her techniques to save my most favorite tomatoes!

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