Hybrid vs. Heirloom Seeds, Heirloom Varieties of Basic Garden Fair and some Yummy Root Storage Crop Recipes

You’re probably wondering why I am talking about seed shopping and gardening in December… well I realize some of my readers live in areas where they have the luxury of year round planting. While others, like myself living in cold climates have green houses and hoop houses to play in. Yet other home gardeners in cool climates are trying to get through these next few months cheerfully! I say, “Who cares if the calender says December!”… now is the time when us gardeners yearn and long for the arrival of those beautiful seed catalogs! As they make their arrivals in our mailboxes we gather them together, cozy up with a cup of java, a fuzzy blanket on our favorite chair with a notebook… ready to start making our lists of ‘new’ varieties!  We flip and long for the life that spring and summer bring into our lives… we long even more for the first shoots of Rhubarb to appear and then all to soon the green stalks of Asparagus to spring forth… to touch the prickly cucumbers, dive into the scratchy leaves of that notorious zucchini plant, get our hands stained green from picking those luscious Heirloom tomatoes… Super Italian Paste for our homemade spaghetti sauces… Green Zebra, Pineapple, Paul Robeson and Yellow Brandywine to create a festive fresh salsa…oh my!


I don’t even know how to express in words how much I love gardening… from gazing through the seed catalogs, to the order making…waiting for the package to arrive and then finally the day comes and we get to take out those rattling packages from the mailbox… touching the packs and imagining what the bounty will be… drawing out the garden plan… working the soil, marking the rows… planting the seeds, watering them… watching each day for the first tiny sprouts… hoeing, tilling, weeding, harvesting, preserving… being richly blessed.  Only a fellow gardener understands this process and the sensation that comes with it.
…but right now it is the dawning of winter… for me, I have my greenhouses and hoop houses that I can linger and plant pretty much year round in. I have Swiss chard, spinach, kale, lettuces and parsley in the hoop house right now… they are so sweet after being frosted (see attached photo). In the greenhouse I can start my onions and leeks… make new baby Jade trees from my mother plant… I can still garden.  With us having an outdoor wood boiler that heats both our home and greenhouse… I have no limitations other than what I make myself. Yes I am spoiled… and I love it!

As most of you know who have been avid readers of Dragonflies, I am a die hard for Heirlooms and I save most of my own seeds for our farm.  But why some of you may ask… I thought now would be a good time to give a lesson on the basic differences between Hybrid and Heirloom seeds.  We’ll look at specific definitions and then I will give my own personal feelings on the two as well as some of my favorite varieties along with some resources!  Be sure to check out my blog at http://www.fordragonfliesandme.blogspot to see all the photo’s that go with this one! Enjoy Friends…

First lets look at the definitions of Heirloom and Hybrid:  To see a very informative video go to http://www.gardenguilds.com

Heirloom Seeds: The definition and use of the word heirloom to describe plants is fiercely debated.
One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant can have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade. Some heirloom plants are much older, some being apparently pre-historic.

Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word “heirloom” in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.

Additionally, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as “commercial heirlooms,” cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down – even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Additionally, many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.

Regardless of a person’s specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus ensuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops.

Information gathered from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_plant


  Hybrid Seeds: Information taken from http://www.gardenguilds.com


A hybrid plant is a cross between two or more unrelated inbred plants. Hybridization has brought huge improvements, including more vigorous plants, improved disease resistance, earlier maturity, more uniform growth and increased yield.

F1 Hybrids:
Seed saved from the first cross-pollination of two unrelated open-pollinated plants is called F1 hybrid seed. (F1 stands for Familial 1.) Each of the parents contributes attributes that, when combined, produce an improved type of plant.

Hybrid Vigor:A frequent characteristic of F1 hybrids is much-increased vigor. This can take the form of faster growth to maturity, larger root and top growth and increased productivity. The gains from what is called heterosis greatly exceed the sum of what the parent plants might be expected to produce. Despite recent advances in the understanding of plant genetics, there is still no agreement among scientists about what causes heterosis.

Disease ResistanceLike other living things, plants are vulnerable to a range of diseases that can cause disappointment in a home garden and huge financial losses in agriculture. One trait that is constantly sought in plant hybridization is resistance–or at least tolerance–of diseases that can affect productivity. In seed catalogs, resistance is noted in an abbreviation after the plant variety name. For example, “Arbason F1 Hybrid, FW (races 0, 1), VW, TMV” means that this tomato has resistance to fusarium wilt races 0 and 1, verticillium wilt and tomato mosaic virus.

Uniform Growth
While the taste and appearance of open-pollinated and heirloom plants is highly valued, the size and growth rate of fruit and leafy parts can vary widely. Hybridization can stabilize growth factors, so the grower can harvest much more uniform produce.

Maturity and Yield
In agriculture, the ability to produce a crop early in the season has considerable marketing advantages. The first corn, the first tomatoes, the first strawberries always command higher prices. Hybrids can be created to achieve this, as well as higher yield, although it is often true that this extra-early produce does not have the full taste of later varieties.

Later Generations
The seed of open-pollinated or heirloom plants can be saved, and when sown will produce plants that are essentially identical to the parent plant. The seed from F1 hybrid plants, called F2 hybrids, will not produce a copy of the parent. Instead, the F2 plant will exhibit “break-up” in the form of random characteristics from either parent or possibly an even earlier trait. What this means is that F1 hybrid seed has to be created from scratch every year by laboriously hand-crossing the parent plants. This helps to explain why hybrid seed can be so expensive.

Read more: Definition of Hybrid Plants | Garden Guides http://www.gardenguides.com/88581-definition-hybrid-plants.html#ixzz2FArRRPem

Well, that is all the ‘formal’ stuff… now on to the basic’s- Heirlooms in my opinion and I believe in most who grow them will testify to overwhelmingly better flavor. Honestly it’s not even just better, most of you who have eaten a grocery store tomato and then a fresh tomato know the difference.  What most consumers don’t know is that those perfectly shaped tomatoes in the grocery store were picked rock hard GREEN, packed and put in the back of a semi and then gassed to ripen on ‘the road’.  That is why they are flavorless! Think about it… why do you think they intentionally say ‘Vine Ripened’ on the little tomatoes on ‘the vine’?  They have to tell you, because they know the others weren’t. 
Hybridization has been utilized for making veggies travel worthy. For example, Brandywine Tomatoes have extremely thin skins, therefore making them terrible ‘travelers’.  As a market grower, I do not grow Brandywines for market because they will crack and split before they get to market, thereby making them unsellable. Although I love them for my home garden and canning. 
Uniformity in shape and size is also a must for grocery stores, not so for market tables… I love to put several different sized and colored Heirloom tomatoes in a quart container- it is simply beautiful. (See photo)

What some people also don’t realize is that there is a big difference between a Hybrid and a GMO seed.  GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  This is where scientists have actually inserted a ‘gene’ from another species into a vegetable. For example putting a fish gene in a tomato… yes they really do, and they say they have really good reasons for it.  GMO’s are not what I am going to get into here though because that is a really lengthy topic in its own.  You can do your own research, but please understand, most vegetable seeds are not GMO.  GMO crops are focused on crops such as corn, soy and alfalfa.


Here are some of my personal favorite Heirloom varieties for home gardening:
Beefsteak: Pineapple, Brandywine- all colors, Paul Robeson, Dr. Whyche’s, Hillbilly
Roma’s: Super Italian Paste, Plum Lemon, Roman Candle, all the Icicles, Striped Roman
Salad types: Green and Red Zebra, Woodle Orange, Rose De Berne, Stupice, White Tomesol
Cherry & Grapes: Reisentraube, Violet Jasper, Blondkopchen, Red & White Current, Chocolate Cherry, Sungold, Yellow Pear

Lettuces:Rein’s De Glace, Merriville de Four Seasons, Grandpa’s, Red Oak Leaf, Jericho, Forellenschulus, Rubin’s Romaine, Butter Crunch,  Lolla Rossa, May Queen, Paris Island Cos, Rouge D’Hiver   Spinach:
Bloomsdale Longstanding, New Zealand, Merlo Nero            Chard:Rainbow, Fordhook, Golden
Beets:Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder, Chioggia, Golden Detroit, Crosby’s Egyptian, Cylindra, Bulls Blood

String: Blue Lake Bush, Contender
Wax: Golden Wax
Roma: *Roma, Dragon Tongue, Purple Podded Pole


Late Flat Dutch, Early Jersey Wakefield, Henderson’s Charleston Wakefield, Perfection Drumhead Savoy, Mammoth Red Rock

Broccoli:  Calabrese, Waltham 29, Green Sprouting

Purple Of Sicily, Giant of Naples, Snowball Self Blanching     Peppers:Sweet:  Jimmy Nardello- my personal favorite- long, sweet frying pepper, Red & Golden Marconi, Purple Beauty, Sweet Chocolate, 
Hot: Early Jalapeno, Anaheim, Hungarian Hot Wax

Mammoth Melting Sugar, Sugar Snap, Lincoln

Carrots:Cosmic Purple, Lunar White, Amarillo, Atomic Red, Chantenay Red Core, Danvers Long


Lemon, Marketmore 76, Boston Pickling

Rosa Bianca, Black Beauty, Purple Long, Thai Long                                                                   Winter Squash:Walthams Butternut, Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, Spaghetti, Green or Orange Buttercup

Summer Squash:
Round De Nice, Fordhook Zucchini, Prolific Straightneck, Patty Pan, Starburst

White Icicle, Purple Plum, French Breakfast, Cherry Belle, Black Spanish, Pink Beauty                                            
Sweet Corn:  For most home gardeners, it is hard to move away from the Hybrids because of the Super Sweet genes that have been introduced in them… but if you want to try an Heirloom, this is a very good one.
Golden Bantam
Here are a few of my favorite seed catalogs to order from
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed http://www.rareseed.com
Fedco Seeds http://www.fedco.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds  http://www.johnnyseeds.com
Seed Savers Exchange www.seedsaversexchange.com
Here are a couple yummy Fall Storage Crop recipes to keep you warm and cozy… enjoy!

Roasted Carrot Soup

6-8 medium carrots, peeled & cut into 1 inch pieces
1 c coarsely chopped onion
1 tbsp olive oil
2 14.5 ounce cans chicken broth
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt & black pepper

1.Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss carrots, & onion with oil to coat.  Spread veggies in a single layer in a shallow baking pan.  Roast for 20 minutes or until tender.
2. In a large saucepan combine roasted vegetables, broth, and paprika .  Bring to boiling.  Cool slightly.
3. Transfer half the vegetable mixture at a time to a blender or food processor.  Blend or process until smooth.  Return mixture to saucepan.  Add lemon juice.  Heat through.  Season with salt & pepper. 

Poached Beets

3/4 c apple juice
1/2 c water
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 1/2 pounds beets, peeled & cut into bite size pieces
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp snipped fresh parsley

1. In a large saucepan combine 1/2 c of the apple juice, the water, and brown sugar.  Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Add beets.  Return to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, about 45 minutes or until beets are tender & can be pierced with a fork, stirring occasionally.  Drain.
2. Transfer beets to serving bowl.  Sprinkle remaining juice over beets.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  If desired, drizzle with honey.

Happy Day,


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