Dave Townsend began vegetable gardening in pots on a 4'x8' porch when he was an apartment-bound public educator and became hooked on the fresh taste of tomatoes and cucumbers. When the opportunity to raise his children and his garden in a home with a little space came, he jumped at the chance. He has been cultivating the former blank slate yard into the garden it is today and blogging about it at growingthehomegarden.com since 2007. Dave, now a stay-at-home dad of three, gardens on about an acre of land, has developed a passion for propagating plants, and retains the love of home grown goodness from the garden!


Hybrid vs. Heirloom: Which is Better?
by Dave Townsend - posted 02/23/12

Heirloom Lettuce: Rouge D'HiverYou may already have a preference for your vegetables but have you given any thought to the difference between the hybrids and the heirlooms?  What really is the difference?  And which is better?  It's largely a matter of personal opinion and taste but knowing the differences will help you make an informed decision.


Let's define our subjects. A hybrid is one plant variety that has been pollinated by different variety.  The two sets of genes combine to make a new variety that exhibits some of the traits of each of its parents.  Pretty simple!  Now take the heirloom plants.  They are typically plants that have been passed down through the years from gardener to gardener but there more to it than that.  They were at one time hybrids too, created by two parent plants.  Over the years these hybrids were planted, seeds were saved, then the seeds were planted again.  The genetic strain stabilized, which is fancy talk for saying you'll get the same produce each time you plant seeds from the hybrid.  Newly created hybrids will not have seeds that are stable. Should you plant a hybrid vegetable or plant from seed you might get what you had before but most likely you'll end up with something else.  It could be better, or perhaps not! 


Now here is the question: Which is Better? 

This is where personal taste comes into play, and not just the taste of the vegetables.  Modern hybrids have been bred for other features like disease or insect resistance.  A vegetable that is noticeably less appetizing to an insect will get crossed with others to create improved insect resistant varieties of the vegetable.  This is done with landscape plants as well and is a good way to help limit the amount of pesticides that are used in our environment. 


Hybrids aren't typically bred for taste or appearance but are bred for tougher skins for transport, better disease resistance, and better insect resistance.  That doesn't mean they don't taste good although it is true that sometimes other positive attributes like flavor can suffer at the expense of other features.


Cherokee Purple TomatoHeirlooms normally aren't as disease or insect resistant as hybrids.  They may need babied more through the growing season. More monitoring and more care may be needed - but there is a payoff - the flavor and unique appearance of many heirlooms makes gardening both fun and delicious!  Heirlooms also have a leg up on hybrids in the seed saving area.  Hybrids are kind of like the box of chocolates from the movie Forest Gump, you never know what you're going to get! 


I personally prefer heirlooms.  'Cherokee Purple' tomatoes and 'Brandywine' tomatoes are two of my favorite heirloom tomatoes but there are hundreds of heirloom plants available through various seed sources.  They are tougher to find in stores but if you enjoy growing from seed your options are nearly limitless! 



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