I like to save seeds from my favorite vegetables. Do you? Saving bean seeds are easy. The varieties are almost all open-pollinated. Keep the beans on the vine until bone dry, then shell and store them. Saving seeds from your favorite tomato, pepper, or eggplant variety is easy, but you need to be aware of some terms before you do and what variety you are growing (or plan to grow).
I use seed catalogs and plant labels as an excellent information source. When you are ready to purchase your tomato (or pepper or eggplant) seeds or plants check the plant label or seed packet. Is the plant or seed open-pollinated, heirloom, or a hybrid? So what’s the difference? And why should you care?
Open Pollinated Vegetables-Seeds. Open pollinated is a horticultural term meaning that the plant will produce seeds naturally. The plant will produce seeds naturally when pollination occurs by insects, birds, wind, humans (hand pollination), or other natural means. If you intend to save the seeds from a specific plant (variety), then you need to separate that variety by 25-50 feet from any other variety, e.g., from a different tomato variety.
Open pollinated plants are more genetically diverse because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individual plants of the same variety. This process allows plants to adapt slowly to local growing conditions and weather-climate changes. When these seeds are planted they will reliably reproduce the same plant as the parent.
Heirloom Vegetables-Seeds. All heirlooms are open pollinated. Heirloom varieties are really nothing more than an open-pollinated variety that has been passed down within a family or community from generation to generation, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry, furniture, or some other keepsake.
If you isolate the heirloom from other varieties and save the seeds, those seeds will produce true the next (and subsequent) years. In short, they will have the same or very similar characteristics to the original plants. I typically grow heirloom tomatoes (paste) and peppers (ripe your lips off hot).
While heirloom varieties are open pollinated, not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms. Some companies identify heirlooms based on dates, such as a variety that has been around for 50 years or more. Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa), on the other hand, identifies heirlooms by verifying and documenting the generational history of preserving and passing on the seed to others, e.g., within the family, community, friends and so on.
Hybrid Vegetables-Seeds. First, hybrids are not “bad” for you. “Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or
varieties is crossed by human intervention.” While hybridization can occur
naturally through random crosses, commercially available hybridized seed, often
labeled as F1, is deliberately created for a desired trait. The first generation of a hybridized plant cross tends to grow better and produce higher yields than the parent varieties. However, any seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable, and often sterile, and cannot be saved for use in subsequent years.
Plant scientists create hybrids because they are looking for a variety with specific characteristics. Better taste, greater disease resistance, handling-shipping quality, growth habit, maturity, size of the plant, size of the fruit-vegetable, acid to sugar content balance, consistency of shape, blemish free, cold or hot weather tolerance, and color (internal and/or external) are just a few of the characteristics scientists may be looking to create.
Why are there so many hybrids? There are many reasons, but the primary reason is you and me! We want to eat certain vegetables around the year. Hybrids were developed, in part, to satisfy the consumers’ (again, that would be you and me), desire to have those fruits and vegetables readily available at our local grocery store throughout the year.
So, what’s your pleasure—hybrids, open-pollinated, or heirloom varieties? Hybrids have many benefits. Hybrids are usually more disease resistant than open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. On the other hand, “choosing open-pollinated varieties conserves the genetic diversity of garden vegetables and prevents the loss of unique varieties in the face of dwindling agricultural
Spring is coming (honest!). Grow your own! Home grown or locally grown tomatoes, ripened on the vine (and most other fruits and veggies) taste better.
Don’t have space in your yard? Not to worry. Check out the new community garden in Edina, the Edina Yorktown Community Garden has a plot for you (but hurry, spaces are limited!). And master gardeners will be there to help you grow, harvest, and enjoy the benefits of getting the taste back into your veggies.
Questions? Comments? Please contact me on this blog or at firstname.lastname@example.org