“Heirlooms”…that word. It triggers visions of wildflower meadows, juicy and flavourful tomatoes, and old world traditions that should never be lost. So dreamy.
“Hybrid”, on the other hand, brings up fears of technology, genetic engineering, mad scientists in their labs making plants from pig cells. Enough to make you shiver.
So I think we should clear some of the air around these 2 types of plants and why we can, in good conscience, consider having both types in our gardens. One of the most important things to note, is that “hybrid” does not come anywhere close to “genetic engineering”. There are no mollusk cells in a hybrid tomato. Hybrid means that 2 different varieties of the same species of plant were cross pollinated (most often in a controlled environment), but it also happens in nature (ever tried saving your own squash seeds?). I was going to continue this post, until I came across this wonderful explanation from Bonnie Plants and thought, “My work here is done”. So check out this simple explanation: https://bonnieplants.com/library/what-is-an-heirloom-what-is-a-hybrid/
There are some very useful hybrid varieties available (ie. Blight resistant tomatoes, and mildew resistant squashes) that we shouldn’t discount. In a bad blight season, these may be the plants that you turn to for toast and tomato sandwiches.
And then, please remember all of the benefits of growing heirlooms:
- You can save your seeds and they will produce true to type (hybrids will not)….but be warned that if you grow 2 varieties of heirloom squash (or any other wind or insect pollinated plant) and the bees do their business, you will end up with your own brand of hybrid seed if you save it. Matt did this one year and we grew a lot of Pumpinis.
- The flavour is usually more rich, deep, and pronounced – especially if you’re a foodie. I think a “Green Zebra” tomato is a little more instagram worthy than a “Red tomato”.
- You are doing your part to maintain seed diversity in a world where genetic diversity is being squashed by big ag. who have reduced the varieties of species’ significantly
- Many of these funky named varieties have really fun stories that you can read about online, for example Chadwick Cherry
We grow and sell mostly heirlooms because they are not widely available. I think nurseries and Garden centres don’t sell many because they are a bit more fussy to grow (lower germination rates etc.) and customers often expect quantity when growing plants from garden centres and heirlooms are all about quality over quantity (ie. heirlooms will give you fewer but tastier fruits).
The truth is, I just love the names. I get so excited by a tomato named “Hawaiian Pineapple” or my forever love “Box Car Willie”. And I know you do too. It’s so fun to see someone’s eyes light up at the idea of a black tomato!