With the increased attention being paid to where our food comes from and how it is grown, home gardeners can find the choices available to them confusing. Toss in the debate over organic vs. non-organic methods of growing plants or the sourcing of seeds and it’s sometimes hard to remember that you just wanted to plant a simple garden.
The battle lines have been drawn, with traditionalists on one side and the scientists on the other. The discussions on this blog are mainly limited to tomatoes, but the battle rages on in many other areas, especially in the area of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds. This is a hot topic which we won’t get into at this time.
The opinion of traditionalists is that nature has done a fine job of producing plants that are adapted to specific climates and growing conditions. This is sometimes done by nature, but often time’s man has a hand in it. Seeds have been saved by farmers and gardeners since man first started growing his own food.
Usually the seeds from the largest and strongest plants are saved, the theory being that these will produce the best yields for next year’s crop. Many times a naturally occurring genetic mutation will occur. The seeds from this mutation may be used to start new varieties. This is common in open pollinated plants, and is how plants have evolved over the millennia.
Plant scientists have sought to speed up plant evolution by the process of hybridization. Instead of allowing the plants to be pollinated naturally, they take different varieties and pollinate them manually so that they know exactly what parent plants were used to produce the new seed.
The resulting plants are tested to see if they did, in fact, achieve the desired qualities. If so, they are brought to market. A few of the major factors that plant breeders look for are disease resistance and product quality.
One of the drawbacks to hybrid seeds is that, once they are grown in an open-pollinated environment, the plants that are grown from seeds saved from that crop will often revert back to the characteristics of one of the parent plants.
The reason that it is recommended to buy new hybrid seeds each year is so the plants will consistently produce the desired product, all other things being equal.
So what’s a gardener to do? It’s really pretty simple. If hybrids produce the crop that you want, plant them. On the other hand if heirloom varieties are more your cup of tea, then plant them. You are lord and master over your garden domain and can do whatever you want. You don’t have to plant one type or the other exclusively.
Some of the original hybrid tomato varieties are sill being bought and sold. These varieties are over 50 years old and still going strong enough to be considered heirlooms in their own right. The marketplace is an example of survival of the fittest in action. If there wasn’t a need for both kinds, one or the other would win by popular support. Garden centers and seed companies grow and prosper by giving the customer what the customer wants.