Thursday, January 12, 2012

Heirloom and hybrid seeds

Vegetable seeds are on my mind, and I'm planning to do an assessment this evening of what I have (BEFORE I order any more seeds). Hmm.

a VERY small sub-selection of seeds
But don't I need to order some disease resistant tomatoes, I think. We need some productive transplants for Garden Fest (and for our Master Gardener's Plant-A-Row for the Hungry garden). Those are normally hybrids, right?  The Totally Tomatoes catalog and the Tomato Grower's catalog beckon. Hmm.

Generally, with tomatoes, which are susceptible to all sorts of diseases, I've found F1 hybrids to be more productive, but last year, my Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the mountains produced a pretty good crop and certainly were tasty. But I also grew a very productive heirloom in Clemson that was not particularly tasty (a paste tomato).

I'm musing about the benefits of open-pollinated seeds, heirlooms, and hybrids, having just finished The Heirloom Life Gardener (a nice book written by the founders of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), mentioned in yesterday's post.

They're solidly in the all-heirloom camp, and I applaud their success, but having grown many hybrids myself, I certainly witness the perspective that hybrid vigor makes them more productive than heirlooms under a number of circumstances.  (Check out this article in the NY Times for some interesting points).

I'm certainly aware and sympathetic to the viewpoint that in rural cultures throughout the world that seed saving is vital to survival, so open-pollinated varieties (OP) are essential.  Large companies buying up smaller seed companies to 'monopolize' the seed trade is a worry-making reality.

I love the romance of seed varieties from all over the world, and that's part of the fun for me.  I want to grow red turnips from Japan, Asian eggplant varieties, Italian paste tomatoes from the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, storage beets from Germany, French filet beans, as well as cool new selections of mache (from Holland) or hybrid heat-tolerant kale from Japan.

And who knows what might turn up in the local tailgate and farmer's markets this summer?


  1. As someone who works regularly in a food pantry, I'd caution about Cherokee Purple if that's where your "plant a row" is going. I love them! Great tomato! But they do tend to get soft spots easily so that makes the logistics of storing/displaying them difficult and of transporting them for folks who may be carrying a couple of sacks on public transportation.
    One recommendation: Big Beef. A hybrid that did well for me in SC and has great flavor unlike so many.
    And even though they are small, Juliet is a great producer over the season with great flavor and versatile. And kids might be tempted by the size to try them.
    It would be good to have ways for "plant a row" people to compare and talk about what works w/the agencies they supply and each other.
    See what works, what clients take, etc. Just occurred to me; I'm sure others already figured that out. But I'm going to check before I plant my row here.

  2. CEN, your point is well-taken!

    I'm thinking the popular home gardening varieties like Big Beef & Better Boy may be the best choices for our food bank gardens and smaller tomatoes like Juliet are a great suggestion, too.

    We've grown transplants at the Garden for using in a community earthbox program, too, and the more standard varieties are best there.

    I'll have to check with our local food bank folks; my friend with a church garden said that last year, although they had lots of eggplants, the Seneca food bank had a hard time distributing them, so sometimes encouraging new items with recipes might be useful.

    Let me know what kind of feedback that you hear!


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