Heirlooms and Hybrids and...I'm so confused...

When people interested in saving their garden seeds approach us about seed saving we find that the information we have is a bit overwhelming at first.  We have as many questions for them as they probably have for us!  So we find it best to start with a simple seed lesson because one of our first questions we ask is: "Where did your original seed come from and do you know the name of the variety you wish to save?".


As farmers, it is part of our job to help educate customers on what they are purchasing. We want to ensure that you know all the facts so an informed decision can be made...

Sometimes we receive confused looks and "it's none of your business" sneers.  I swear we aren't asking because we are trying to say your seed purchasing choice is poor.  We simply are interested in whether or not the variety is an heirloom or a hybrid.  Many people do not know the difference or why it is important to differentiate.  We have nothing against growing a hybrid seed, hybrid seeds can turn into wonderful heirloom varieties eventually.  But, knowing the difference is what can help create a new heirloom variety and adding to biodiversity versus flattening biodiversity. 

So let's start with some basic definitions:

Heirloom:  An open pollinated (through wind, insects or self) plant that has been passed down from generation to generation maintaining it's true to type characteristics.  Seed can be saved from year to year with the same result. 

Hybrid: A controlled cross pollinated plant that is only available for use once.  A first generation hybrid plant will not produce the same characteristics year to year.  New seed must be made and purchased every year.

Today there are over 8000 different varieties of tomatoes you can try!

Each time someone plants an heirloom variety, saves the seed and replants that seed, the stronger and more adapted to it's environment the plant gets.  This adaptability of plants helps keep our world biodiverse.  Biodiversity is not just a buzz word here.  Biodiversity ensures that in the face of a changing planet, changing climates and unpredictable natural events, the food supply will continue to thrive. 

Flatten biodiversity and the food supply flattens as well.  Just like animals, there are hundreds of endangered plants and many more extinct ones.  There is quite a bit of information about the importance of biodiversity and what many are doing to preserve it.  So I will leave that to the professionals!

A simple reason to plant an heirloom seed is you know exactly what you will be getting each time you plant it.  If you remember those tomato sandwiches or those pumpkin pies from your childhood, you can recreate them by growing the exact tomato or cheese pumpkin.  Nostalgia goes a long way.  But let's say, you are more adventurous and want to try new things...you are in luck.  Today, there are over 8000 different varieties of tomatoes you can try! 

The process of de-hybridization can be very fulfilling if you wish to dabble in the the science of breeding.  (That's a whole other kettle of fish).  Most people we talk to simply want to plant their gardens and enjoy the fruit of their labor.  A hybrid pack of seeds or transplant can definitely help you on your way.  But, your joy will be short lived and you may be left feeling like you were taken for a ride.  Most are simply one hit wonders. 

Hybrid "varieties" have become so popular that many mask their origins behind their names.  Varieties like Sun Gold, Early Girl, Napa Grape, and Fairy Tale have to be produced every year by big seed companies. So how do you determine if the seeds or transplant are heirloom or hybrid?  Ask! 

As farmers, it is part of our job to help educate customers on what they are purchasing.  We want to ensure that you know all the facts so an informed decision can be made and we encourage questions. 

We do not wish to preach to anyone about what they plant in their gardens. The important part of this article is learning the difference.  And if you do not wish to plant anything and still want to partake in those tomato sandwiches...we can help you with that.  350 different heirloom tomato varieties are growing as we speak in our dirt...and we are happy to share