Friday, November 4, 2016

Heirloom Seeds and Hybrid Seeds

Note:
 In this article, we are not speaking about genetically modified organisms (GMO'S).  A GMO  is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using genetic engineering, i.e. gene modification, recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing) or transgenic technology.


A hybrid is defined as a plant that results from the cross between two plants of differing genetic characteristics, i.e., two species, subspecies, cultivars, varieties, etc. Some crosses may occur naturally, but most hybridizing is deliberately done by man in order to produce a plant with improved characteristics such as disease resistance, greater vigor and uniformity. Hybrids generally have higher yields and better exterior quality.   
  
Today, hybrid seed is prevalent both in agriculture, as well as home gardening, and is a major contributor to the rise in agricultural output in the last 50 years.  The commercial hybrid market actually began back in the 1920’s, when the first hybrid corn was produced.

The disadvantage of using hybrid seeds is that the resulting seed cannot be used at the end of the season for next year’s crop. The seed taken from a hybrid will either be sterile or produce plants that are not true to the mother plant, i.e., not true to type. Thus it becomes necessary to purchase new hybrid seeds each year. 

On the other hand, heirloom seeds are from open-pollinated varieties. This means that plants grown from these seeds will be identical to their parent.  In addition, their genes have not been subjected to modern breeding techniques and manipulation. Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.

Heirloom seeds can be saved from year to year and planted for the next crop. Although they may have some built-in hardiness, heirlooms generally do not possess disease resistance, vigor and uniformity that hybrids do.

One of the main advantages attributed to heirlooms is their excellent flavor.  In hybridization programs, plant breeders sacrifice flavor in preference to other attributes such as disease resistance and higher yields.