Field of Science

Hybrid or Heirloom?

The NYTimes had an interesting garden article about hybrid and heirloom seeds. The article took sort of a funny tone by taking the slant that gardeners who prefered hierloom varieties were exhibiting a form of political correctness. The situation seems considerably more nuanced than presented. First, there are hybrids and then there are hybrids. Without disease resistant hybrid tomatoes, my backyard garden would be a total bust, and while defeating the purpose of home gardening, even the process-tomato hybrids have their place (in a catsup bottle). The Amish paste tomato is a great heirloom variety, but of late the early blight has made it impossible to grow. Heirloom varieties are great to have around because they represent genetic diversity that would get lost if heirloom fanciers didn't grow them. Unfortunately many seed producers believing that people wanted uniformity provided it, and heirlooms display some of the range of variation that exist. Many heirloom advocates cite the ability to keep seeds from open-pollinated plants, but it isn't that easy. If you don't hand pollinate the flowers and then protect them form other pollinations, you've probably just made your own hybrid of unknown parentage, assuming at least one other variety is growing within bee flight distance. And so it goes. Deriding hybrids simply fails to accept reality; dismissing heirlooms as "failed" varieties is just stupid. Although not a seed crop, the northern spy has long been the Phactor's favorite apple, an heirloom variety for certain, and not without it's problems to grow, so in spite of the fantastic apples, it had fallen from favor and has become quite hard to find. The nova spy is a new variety that has managed to retain the fruit quality while solving the cultivation problems by providing an early bearing dwarf tree. So let's not be hybrid or heirloom ideologues; let's stay flaming moderates.

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