The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

This is the third post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first two please link here to read.

Now for -The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids– with Judith Sorg.

When I shop for plants at my local garden center, I always notice the ones that are marked ‘heirloom,” while others are labeled “hybrid.” When I first started my first vegetable garden, I wondered what these terms meant, and which ones were better to plant.

The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

Heirloom harvested peas

These terms can create confusion among novice and experienced gardeners alike. There are those who swear that heirlooms are the only way to go because they think hybrids plants are inferior­­­­. On the other hand, hybrid fans are convinced they are a better all around choice, because they tend to be more vigorous producers and are less susceptible to disease and pests.

But I have found from my own personal experience that there can be room in every garden for both types of plants. To better understand the distinction between heirloom and hybrid plant varieties, let’s look at how they came to be.

Open-Pollination vs. Careful Manipulation

Open-pollination is a form of plant reproduction which occurs in one of two ways:

 

  1. Cross-pollination (in the context of open-pollination) occurs when two varieties of the same plant species reproduce due to natural pollinators, such as wind, birds or insects.
  2. Self-pollination occurs when a plant possesses both male and female parts and can reproduce by itself. Self-pollinating plants, such as tomatoes, breed true to the parent plant and do not require isolation to avoid contamination from other varieties.

The term “heirloom” refers to older, well-established varieties of open-pollinated plants. These plants over time have developed stable genetic characteristics. Often, classic heirloom varieties evoke a sense of nostalgia because they were often found in the gardens of older generations. In fact, heirloom seeds can become an important part of a family’s history as they are passed down from one generation to the next.

This tomato is a hybrid cross of wild tomato lines from Europe. The tomato is green to deep purple on the outside

Hybrid plants, on the other hand, are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between different varieties of the same species of plants. Although cross-pollination can and does occur in nature, the results are too random to be reproduced and marketed on a mass scale. Therefore, the hybrids you see in nurseries are not open-pollinated like heirloom varieties.

In order to sell a hybrid variety commercially, its breeding must be carefully monitored in order to ensure the same characteristics are present across all plants sold under that name. Unfortunately, this high level of human involvement in their development causes many to believe hybrid plant varieties are also “genetically modified.”

 

Are Hybrid Plants Genetically Modified?

No. Hybrid plants and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are NOT the same thing.

Once again, the difference between the two goes back to how they are created.

Hybrids are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between two varieties of the same plant species. The resulting progeny will contain characteristics from each parent plant, just like if the two had crossed in nature.

GMOs are the result of scientific manipulation at the cellular level.

In a lab environment, plant cells are altered through the addition of outside substances like pesticides or DNA from other organisms. So-called ‘negative’ genes may also be removed in this process. The end result is a new organism that wouldn’t occur in nature without this type of manipulation.

There is a lot of concern and discussion surrounding the long-term safety of GMOs because they have been introduced into the food supply without any long-term studies to confirm their safety. Today, there is a lot of concern that GMOs may be linked to cancer and many other health problems.

As consumers become more aware of the presence of these substances in commercially processed foods, many are choosing to adopt an organic, whole food diet. In an effort to avoid GMOs, some are also avoiding hybrid plants unnecessarily.

Which is Better: Heirlooms or Hybrids?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question. Heirlooms are often treasured for their delicious flavor, while many hybrids are prized for their vigor, high yields and superior disease resistance.

The biggest difference between the two is this: Heirloom varieties grow true from seeds. You can save and use their seeds year after year and get uniform results.

Hybrids do not offer that type of genetic stability. Plants grown from the seeds of hybrid plants are unlikely to look or perform like the plant from which the seeds were collected.

So, if you like to collect and grow your garden from seeds, heirlooms are a better choice for you. If not, there is no need to limit your options to just one.

Next we will discuss, “How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps”.

Return March. 16, 2014, to view Judith’s next discussion on vegetable gardening.

 

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Vegetable Gardening and Raising Chickens the Organic Way

organic vegetable gardenWhether you’re on a budget, aren’t sure of the authenticity of local organics or both, the surest and cheapest way to get good organic food is by growing your own. And growing your own can be as simple or as involved as you want.

If you’re a first-time gardener, the trick is not to overwhelm yourself. Keep your garden relatively small, but leave room for expansion when you’re ready. A family of 4 can start with about 200 square feet (approximately 50 square feet per person) and have a great supply of produce. But if you don’t want to start that big, don’t. Do what you’d like and what you can.

organic tomato growing in a potIf you don’t have a lot of space, containers work well. Root vegetables may not be possible but some people report great success in growing potatoes in compost bags. Other traditional container fare includes tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, peppers, strawberries, blueberries and herbs.

If you are growing in the ground, there are a couple of things to consider. First, is the amount of sunlight. The second is soil quality.

For sunlight, you should find a space that gets what’s full sun. That’s about 8 hours of sun each day. Some items may need a little less sun, but 8 hours will help you grow a large variety.

For soil quality, you are looking for a pH of about 5.8 – 6.8 and you can buy an inexpensive testing kit at a garden store. You can increase pH, or correct acidity, by adding limestone. To decrease pH, or to correct alkalinity, use elemental limestone. Also, ensure that you have plenty of organic material in your soil and add leaves and compost to help.

If your soil isn’t quite right, you can make raised beds and surround them with bricks or stone to contain the nutrient rich and balanced soil.

When you’re ready to start planting, consider planting some plant starts, instead of seeds. They may be a little more difficult to find organically, but for first time growers, they’re much easier to work with.

Make sure to water your plants regularly. Seeds should be watered daily. New plants should be watered every 2-3 days. On particularly hot days, you may need to do more. You can even collect rain water for your plants by using rain barrels or creating your own from garbage pails.

watering can

Organic herbicides don’t work that well. Instead, take the time to pull weeds, ensuring you grab the weeds fully by their roots or they will continue to grow. Weeding regularly will keep them from maturing and becoming problematic…plus it makes your whole job quicker and easier.

As you go through your gardening journey, keep a record. Write down dates things are planted, how they are treated and progress. Take weather and other conditions into consideration. It will allow you figure out what worked well and help you improve your gardening techniques, year after year.

You may not feel like a green thumb now, but keep at it. It’s so worth it. Now let’s talk about raising chickens.

Backyard Chickens: Tips for Getting Started, his will be our theme.

organic chicken eggsA few years ago, it seemed a little bizarre that someone would keep chickens in their backyard. These days, no one bats an eye at this inexpensive and rewarding way to feed the family.

There are a few reasons why people raise chickens:

– Obviously, for the fresh eggs
– Natural removal of weeds and bugs
– Save money
– It’s pretty easy, once you get started

Of course, always check local laws about raising chickens in your yard and ensure you’re in compliance before you start. You can purchase chickens from a variety of suppliers. You can actually hatch eggs or raise chicks, but they are more work than a grown chicken. Keep your climate in mind, the egg size you want and whether or not the chicken will be raised strictly for eggs. You can use the handy tool here to select a breed.

One chicken will lay about 4-6 eggs per week, but they generally lay less in colder months, so keep this in mind when planning their space.

Raising Chickens

To raise chickens, you can have them running free, but a coop provides protection from the elements and predators, so make a plan to build one. A coop should provide about 2-3 square feet per hen and for the outside area; each hen should have about 5 square feet of space. In a coop they can peck each other without enough space, so never try to cram them in.

As you build, keep seasonal temperatures in mind. Make sure air can get through in summer and keep it from going through in winter. You can even use a tarp to keep air from blowing through and remove it, as needed. Use a slanted roof to let rain roll off, if you live in a rainy area.

Inside the coop, use pine shavings for the flooring. This makes it comfortable for the chickens and easy for clean up as you scoop out and replace the shavings. Provide plenty of roosting space. They will also need nesting space. Wooden boxes work well for this.

You can feed chicken store-bought feed pellets. They also love vegetables scraps, bread and bugs. Give them fresh water regularly, keep their area clean and you’ll have happy chickens. Check on them daily and collect their eggs each day as well. Eggs can go bad quickly in warm weather and in cold weather; they can freeze, expand and crack.

Hand feeding Chickens

If you have young children, always supervise them with the chickens. Chickens will peck to defend themselves and although it won’t take a child too long to learn this, you need to be there to ensure proper handling of the chickens. In addition, live poultry can carry salmonella. Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly and immediately after handling the chickens or being in your chicken’s area.

Overall, having chickens can be a very rewarding experience and many people come to see chickens as part of their family. It is a long term commitment because chickens can live for 12 years or more. Just care for them, protect them and they will serve you well.

Next theme link here:  Nine Things to Consider When Storing Organic Food

 

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