I’ve kind of always been a purist when it comes to what I grow in my garden. I prefer heirlooms, the rarer the better, over pretty much everything else, including regular open pollinated plants.
So here’s the lowdown on all the different types of seed you will come across:
Open Pollinated seed means that when you grow that plant you can save the seed and the offspring will be true to form.
Heirlooms are all open pollinated but are generally older varieties. The age of the variety is debatable but I generally think of heirlooms as pre-WWII varieties. Why WWII? That was about the time we started to transition to growing food with petrochemicals and started breeding more for uniformity and shipping ability, rather than taste and nutrients.
Hybrid seed is just a cross between two varieties. It’s not transgenic (also called GMO), so let’s just get that straight. If you see (F1) next to the seed’s name or description, it means it is the first generation of the cross. Of course you can continually save seed through multiple generations and end up with a stable variety – and that is when you get an open pollinated plant.
I have come to the realization, however, that maybe all heirlooms isn’t the best way to go. Sometimes you have to choose between being able to successfully grow it or buying it at the store. I would much rather purchase a hybrid and grow it here than have to resort to buying it at the store because the heirloom varieties available just don’t work for my area.
The heirlooms plants that I’ve come to find don’t work for me are mostly Brassicas. While heirloom varieties of cabbage and cauliflower do great for me, it’s the Brussels sprouts and broccoli that I have a horrible time with. Usually I get a very small harvest of broccoli and absolutely nothing from the Brussels sprouts.
Since the selection of available heirloom varieties for both broccoli and Brussels sprouts is very limited, and I’ve tried most of them, I think it’s time for me to finally admit that I need to switch to using hybrids for these two crops.