Heirloom? Hybrids? Why Not Both?

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A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids? and it gave me some food for thought. Since this is not a blog devoted to media critiques, I’ll refrain from that. I will focus on the one thing that made sense to me from that article, the subject matter, heirlooms or hybrids.

Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart. I am a passionate supporter of them. My mission now is to connect people to them, and encourage them to make them family heirlooms. That said, I feel hybrids serve an equally important purpose. It comes down to what is the end user’s goal.

I can understand farmers needing to have a a uniform crop. Their living depends on the harvest. The challenge of weather, plant disease and pests is a formidable one. Hybrid seeds level the playing field in a big way, and encourage the farmer to farm. On a smaller scale, the home gardner faces the same challenges, and hybrids offer them the same advantage. Hybrids plants offer a safe and stable alternative to the potential gamble that heirlooms offer.

Heirloom varieties can be a bit of a crap shoot. Take for example heirloom tomatoes. For the farmer looking for a full-fledged, market-ready cash crop, a major stumbling blocks to heirloom tomatoes is their thin skin. It hinders shipping them over a distance. They also have a shorter shelf life. The plants can be more susceptible to disease. The odd shapes and sizes makes packing difficult.  In the structure of modern society, with the big box retail model as the driving consumer practice, heirloom tomatoes don’t stand a chance.

For the backyard gardener, the stability of hybrids offers them opportunity to grow plants that aren’t as finicky and fussy as heirlooms, according to the reputation that heirloom’s have. Limitations of time, space, ability, and the growing zone in which a gardner lives, all are challenges that hybrids can address to a varying degree of success. They can bring more people in the fold as gardeners.

Hybrids on the surface offer a safer return on your investment of time and money for gardening for a certain segment of society.

They just don’t taste as good. And you can’t save the seeds. The seed factor is big. With hybrids you’re handing over the power to sustain life on this planet to seed companies. These companies will decide which plants are worthy to be grown. This allows decisions to be made about what best for the company, not the balance of life on the planet. Keep in mind, mother nature perfected the blend of art and science in a seed. This generally tiny thing, that when planted in the earth with the addition of light and water, can grow into something that can help sustain life, for so many inhabitants on this planet, while tantalizing and tickling all of the human senses, is an amazing achievement. And it wasn’t done for profit.

And it’s that factor that I will place my trust in her, and her heirloom varieties.

While Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, are, at least in my experience, one of THOSE varieties with THAT reputation about being not prolific, uncooperative and having a will of their own, the majesty of their process makes it easy to forgive them. Watching the fruit ripen on these plants is a sight to be seen. Not all ripen this way, however some go from a standard green tomato, to a green striped tomato that resembles a watermelon right before turning a highly chromatic crimson that is the color of a very sweet and ripe watermelon. The tomatoes are big, after all they are beefstakes, and ultra sweet. And the taste is worthy of the experience of their process. If you get a half a dozen from a plant, you’ve done well. They are truly fascinating. I’ll always have a couple of these plants around.

So for me, that’s what I relish in my garden. I could also understand why a farmer would pass these over for a cash crop, or someone who was challenged by time, space and enviromental issues, to choose a hybrid over a Watermelon Pink. There’s good reasons for both heirlooms and hybrids. For me though, it’s that nonconformist tendency that heirlooms offer, that make them my choice. And the power of their seeds.

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