Hybrid Seeds

I’m surprised by a couple of things when it comes to gardening. First, the lack of understanding in hybrid versus heirloom seeds. Hybrids are sometimes made out to be the villain of gardening. Second, the thought that USDA Hardiness Zones are “grow zones.” Let’s straighten out some hybrid seed myths.

Can You Save Seeds From Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables?

You can save seeds from hybrids and the plants will most likely produce. You won’t get the same fruit or vegetable but you’ll get something. It might be delicious and it will at least be interesting to see the end result. The result will be a cross between the parents, and if the parents are hybrids their parents’ influence might show up in the end vegetable. You know those tomato volunteers that pop up in the spring? There you go.

hybrid seeds, cross pollination, heirloom seeds, open pollinated seeds
Hybrids are Tasteless, Right?

Do hybrid seeds grow tasteless food? Some certainly do, but so do some open pollinated and heirloom seeds.Soil quality and ripeness have a lot to do with flavor. I’ve grown a lot of heirloom and open pollinated seeds that produced little flavor even in the best soil and picked at the perfect time. One versus another isn’t cut and dried when it comes to production, health, flavor, disease resistance, and other issues involved in gardening.

Open pollinated doesn’t mean heirloom and heirloom doesn’t mean open pollinated, by the way. Heirloom doesn’t have one specific definition. They’re varieties handed down through generations or age dependent. Some people consider a variety an heirloom once it’s been stable for 25 or 50 years. Open pollinated generally means the seeds will breed true – you’ll get the same fruit or vegetable every time.

Can you tell whether these seedlings are hybrid, open pollinated or heirloom? No, me either.
hybrid seeds, seedlings

Hybrids are Not Genetically Engineered

Hybrids are the result of cross pollination.  Birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators cross-pollinate blossoms. Pollen floats on the wind and causes cross pollination. I wish I knew what apples crossed to create the ornamental variety growing at the edge of the road. Had I know that’s what it is before the tree was too big to move I’d have put it in a better spot. The apples look like clusters of cherries.

hybrid seeds, bees pollinate plants, bees, cross pollinationYou can cross pollinate plants easily with a paint brush, your finger, or by pulling one flower off to brush its pollen onto another flower. It’s not the same as genetically engineering a daffodil gene into rice (to increase Vitamin A; this is impossible naturally), or a gene from a firefly into a fish (to glow in the dark, sold as pets) or a nut gene into another food (imagine what this could do to someone with a nut allergy).

Genetic engineering happens only in a laboratory. That’s a simple way to keep the difference between the two straight.

Are Hybrid Seeds Sterile?

I don’t hear this one often anymore. It was long said that growing seeds from hybrid produce was impossible, that they wouldn’t germinate. Eventually enough people tested this information and showed us that this was incorrect. After that it was said that yes, these seeds will germinate and a plant will grow but it won’t produce a fruit or vegetable. We talked about the volunteer tomatoes in the garden. We posted pictures. “What do you think this came from?” And we realized that yes, hybrid seeds do germinate, plants grow, and yes they do indeed produce something we can eat. Some of the resulting plants and fruits and vegetables weren’t good for our growing conditions. Maybe they weren’t disease resistant. Maybe they were the best damned tomato, squash, and zucchini we’d ever grown and eaten.

If you save something for seed or find a volunteer in the garden you conduct your own experiments and research right there in your garden. You might one day create an open pollinated tomato that started with a seed from a volunteer hybrid tomato plant.