Did You Know? Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds


In today’s Did You Know? post, I thought that we would look at the difference in heirloom and hybrid seeds. With all of the concern over GMOs, some people are under the impression that all hybrid seeds are genetically modified. I want to dispel that myth so that when you are browsing through your seed catalogs, you won’t be discouraged to see that the tomato that most appeals to you is a hybrid.

Black Krim Tomato

Heirloom seeds are often referred to as “open pollinated” varieties. Open pollinated refers to the fact that they are pollinated by nature (bees, other insects, ants, etc.) and if allowed to go to seed, they will produce an exact replica of the parent plants. Let me put a disclaimer in here: if you have a Black Krim tomato and a Mortgage Lifter tomato, they will cross to produce seeds that are not like either of the parents. To produce Black Krim seeds, two Black Krim tomatoes need to pollinate each other. Tomatoes require a separation distance of at least 35′ to ensure that the seed you collect at the end of the season has not been crossed with a different variety. Some varieties of plants, like corn, require a separation distance of 600′.

Hybrid seeds are plants that have been bred for increased vigor, disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. A hybrid¬†is what would result from saving the seeds of the Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes used in the example above. Many of the most popular tomatoes such as Better Boy and Early Girl are hybrids. Again, it doesn’t mean that have been genetically modified…it simply means that two different cultivars of plants were bred together to produce a superior plant. With hybrids, there is something known as F1 vigor. It refers to the first generation cross of two different plants which is almost always more vigorous than subsequent generations. This means that if you plant Better Boy tomato which is an F1 hybrid, you will not produce Better Boys if they are allowed to go to seed. The way you get Better Boy seeds is by crossing the parents and most of the parents’ names¬†of these popular plants are a trade secret.

If you would like to save your own seeds, then you need to grow heirloom or open pollinated varieties. If you are more interested in just eating delicious tomatoes, then either heirloom or hybrid seeds will work for you. I personally like to grow heirloom tomatoes because there are so many different varieties available…plus it keeps new genes in the gene pool. Let me know if you prefer heirloom or hybrids by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

January 16, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Did You Know? Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds

  1. Hi Stacey,

    Great post on heirlooms,I am wondering if you have a resource for heirlooms that can be traced back specifically to the Mid-Atlantic area?


    • Hi Emily! Have you checked out Southern Exposure Seed Exchange? They are located in Louisa, VA and sell all types of heirlooms from different areas of the country. I know that I’ve read of many in their catalog that are from the Mid-Atlantic gardening region, although I can’t remember any specifically. Hope that helps!

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