Posted By: Michelle Kuehler /
Gardeners are generally kind, caring people but there is one gardening topic that a lot of
gardeners take a side on and some even fight for. Which is the more superior seed: hybrids or heirlooms? There are benefits to each but those on the battle line for heirlooms insist that heirlooms are our one chance for preserving crop diversity and sustainability, while those wielding weapons in honor of hybrids consider them more superior in strength and size.
What’s the Difference?
Hybrids are created by artificially crossing two different plant varieties with coveted characteristics. One plant may produce large fruit but may be too weak to fight off disease, while the other may produce a small yield but may have superior disease protection. The result is a new plant variety that exhibits these specific positive characteristics.
Heirlooms are classified as being open-pollinated, at least 40 years old and no longer available in the commercial seed market. Heirlooms are created by pollination by wind or bees or by human selection. In this way, seeds from the best plants or plants that hold unique characteristics are collected and planted the next year. The new variety is then developed over time by artificial selection and isolation.
The Argument for Heirlooms
Heirloom seeds can be harvested and saved for future gardening. Because their traits are relatively fixed, you never need to buy more than one package of seeds for any variety. You can also choose to create heirlooms suited to your region by only replanting seeds from the plants that grow the best. Heirlooms are held dear for their superior or unique flavor, color or texture and for the story of their history.
The Argument for Hybrids
Hybrid seeds are the most common type of seed, making them easier to find. They can also offer uniform fruit and vegetables within the first year, often with superior disease resistance, increased yield and a particular maturity range.
Why Wouldn’t I Want to Grow Heirlooms?
Heirlooms may not produce as plentifully or reliably as hybrids. Heirlooms often lack the disease resistance, large yield and early maturity that hybrids possess.
Why Wouldn’t I Want to Grow Hybrids?
Hybrids are only uniform the first year. After the first year, they may grow in different colors, sizes or may be weak or have no growth at all. Hybrids are akin to varieties available in the supermarket and are said to be unoriginal and lacking in flavor.
Which Seed is the Winner?
Both heirlooms and hybrids have characteristics which make them special. You might want to grow both and consider what qualities you like in both types. The decision for which side to fight for is up to you.