Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hybrid Heirlooms?

Seed companies are now selling modern:heirloom hybrid tomatoes that are pest-resistant and generally easy to grow, while maintaining much of the flavor and general weirdness of old fashioned varieties.

The article quotes some serious gardener/farmers crying foul of the bastardized, not-true-to-seed hybrids, but I'm all for it!

Hybrid heirlooms are a gateway seed to a more engaged relationship with food. Beginner gardeners tend to give up if they don't get some good success right away, but an easy entry into more sophisticated fruits could tempt them to try growing the real thing.

h/t: Plant Breeding Forum listserv, Luigi Guarino


  1. Nifty.

    The assumption that heirlooms are hard to grow annoys me. Sure, an heirloom from Siberia will be hard to grow if you live in Florida. But I suppose research is not something that should be expected from a beginner gardener.

  2. That's a good point.

    The home garden seed companies sure love to emphasize how resistant their varieties are to pests and bad weather - but I don't know if this is a marketing niche or if people really feel frustrated with non-foolproof varieties.

  3. I'm all for it -- there is nothing inherently better about a heirloom just because it is old, and for the average gardener who isn't interested in saving seeds, combining hybrid vigor and disease resistance to great flavor is a total plus.

  4. They do? The catalogues I've seen (Baker Creek, for example) list the positives (such as drought tolerance or tolerance to late blight), and assume that if you want a tomato that is resistant to late-blight, that you pick one that is being listed as being resistant. Is the problem that the negatives aren't listed? Or are other seed-sellers making false claims about specific varities?

  5. Michelle,

    Yeah, that's what I've seen too. I guess they need to say something positive about every variety and just say what they can...

  6. I grew black krims last year and they were just as easy to grow as the hybrids. And they were DELICIOUS.

  7. sounds good! i got a city garden plot this year so i'll finally be able to grow some decent tomatoes (if I can keep the critters out).

  8. I think the problem here is to know what the companies (and reporters) mean by "hybrid". Do they literally mean F1 hybrids based on two separate parental lines, one of which is an heirloom? Or do they mean OP varieties that resemble heirlooms in other ways?

    If the latter, welcome to the wonderful world of marketing. How many people, tomato enthusiasts included, understand that an "heirloom" like Green Zebra had a breeder, who is very much still around today?

  9. Very good point.

    I'm glad you mentioned green zebra in particular! We've been describing it as "heirloom" in our research (e.g. we're comparing mainstream Mid-Atlantic industrial varieties to transgenics and assorted different looking ones). I'll have to doublecheck my nomenclature..



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