Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hybrid Seeds or Heirloom Seeds?


There is a huge debate out there in the gardening world that swirls around seeds and their origins. As you can imagine, there are large groups of supporters on both sides of this argument, and I doubt if there is a clear winner. This is by no means a complete definition of either side of the seed argument, and I'm sure there are tons of details that can be added. Please add some!!

Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid seeds got their start in the 1920's by a man named Henry Wallace, a professor at the University of Iowa, who founded a seed company called The Hi-Bred Corn Company. This company later became Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company, a subsidiary of DuPont Chemical Company. Wallace wanted to help out with the food supply and had the idea to create a corn that would grow prolifically and provide an abundance of food for America and the world. It is interesting to note that Wallace later became the Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wallace became Vice President under Roosevelt from 1940-1944. Friends in high places? I digress...

Hybrid seeds are created by finding parent plants that have the desired traits for the hybrid seeds and then, they are matched to produce the seeds. Farmers were convinced to buy these seeds in order to produce higher yields, and they did. Before this new "technology" farmers would save enough seeds from their crops to replant their fields the next year. The new hybrids began a cycle forcing farmers to purchase new seeds each year, as they could no longer keep seeds due to the nature of the hybrids.

Not only were farmers buying hybrid seeds, but the nation's gardeners began doing likewise. These varieties were selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. One of the traits of hybrid seeds is they are "high response" seeds. They require a lot of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and a great deal of water to achieve their high yields. This is how the chemical companies got involved in the farmyard. If you'll recall, Wallace's seed company is now owned by DuPont Chemical. Another well-known chemical giant, Monsanto, the world's largest hybrid seed company, also is the creator and producer of Roundup, and is the leader in bovine growth hormones.

Heirloom Seeds
People who have a great interest in Heirloom seeds and their plants are attracted to them for many reasons. Some are interested in growing the same plants that were grown for hundreds of years. Some are attracted by the idea of being connected with their forefathers. While others believe that the Heirloom plants are simply natural and lend themselves to organic gardening much better than hybrids. Most of us believe they just taste better!!
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Heirloom seeds are also known as "open pollinated" seeds. Unlike hybrids, which are pollinated mechanically and under tightly controlled conditions, heirloom plants produce seeds that mimic the parent plants. Gardeners save seeds from their best plants and store them for the next planting season. Heirloom plants tend to have much more flavor than hybrids, but often have irregular shapes, or don't transport as well. Producers of hybrids have discovered that it is far easier to breed plants for size and shape. Flavor is a mysterious thing! Another aspect of heirloom seeds is that they are dynamic. This means that the plants are able to adapt to their local environment, whereas hybrids are pretty much static.
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I was recently reading a magazine called Heirloom Farm and came across an article about William Woys Weaver, author and seed collector. Weaver, an avid gardener, discovered a collection of seeds in baby food jars in his recently deceased grandfather's freezer. He learned that his grandfather collected seeds from his gardens and replanted them into next year's garden. Weaver donated some of these to the collection at Monticello, as well as several collection sites in Europe. Weaver has written a book called Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, and it is on my list of must-get books.
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I am planning to grow mostly heirlooms this year and will change over completely next year. I have a gazillion sunflowers to plant, and they are all hybrids. I am going to try to plant some of their seeds and will let you know what develops!!
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Farm Update:
Garden Site
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This is a photo of the inner circle of the driveway, where I am planting the veg patch. It will be fenced to keep out critters, and I plan on building a series of raised beds. The soil is gravelly and sandy, and the raised beds will allow me to create nice soil on a much smaller and more controlled scale.
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Chickens on a Sunny Day!
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The Buff Cochin, (Bev), is leading the charge to find some good stuff to scratch around in.
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The Great Escape
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Steve McQueen would have been proud to see the chickens sprinting past the unsuspecting Bishop, (the barn cat). I kinda have the feeling that not much gets past her, including a group of loud and boisterous chickens heading to a dust bath!
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I hope you are having a nice day!
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It is somtimes easy to focus on negative things.
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Ruth and I are focusing on positive thoughts.
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(The photos in this post were taken by Ruth.)

51 comments:

Ruth said...

I want to learn about this, a very good post, and these are great links! I know little about GM crops, but the little I know drives me crazy!

I told you about Winona LaDuke, whom I read about from an excerpt of her Bioneers conference talk, in which she said that the genetically altered seeds don't have the ability to adapt. But the old biologically diverse seed stocks can and would make it through climate destabilization. She also claims that the old indigenous varieties are also higher in antioxidants, fiber and amino acides than what we get at the store.

We need to be part of the movement back, right here at the Green Barn.

julie king said...

i've often wondered what the difference was between these seeds. thanks for the info. bev looks like she could take bishop on. well, she looks like she "thinks" she could. lol have a wonderful sunday evening!!

Lanny said...

Nice pics, Are you intersted in some thoughts from the center (ideologically speaking) of the controvesy based on forty years of experience, lots of reading and lots of being mislead? If so I'll pop it off in an e-mail. If not I'll save it and just enjoy your beautiful pics and farm stories.

jennifer's farmily said...

Thank you for the info about the seeds! That was a great learning thing to post about! :)

I love the chickens running past the cat. Too funny!

warren said...

We're making the switch to heirlooms too...we have a few last hybrids to use up this year and then we are going all hybrid!

Hot Belly Mama said...

Ha ha! I love the last two photos! Thank you for the comment about your roo staring down your hawk. You've just set the bar for all of OUR roosters. lol.

Laurie Kruczek said...

I look forward to seeing how your raised beds come along. If you go to my blog and scroll down a little, you will see the raised bed garden I built last year. I am moving this summer, but I am taking the raised beds with me! Not leaving all that hard work behind ;)

Thanks for the cool hybrid/heirloom rundown. I linked from your blog to mine this post, as I loved it so.

Keep up the good work!

Laurie

Gwen Buchanan said...

Funny picture of the racing chickens...

I like to stay as close to natural as possible so the unaltered seeds are my choice unless I can't find a particular seed in that form...

I'm making a couple raised beds this year too for plants that need a little more depth..

From pictures that I saw on yours and Ruth's blog I have the sense that your kitchen faces out towards the newly planned garden area.. that would be so enjoyable to see it from the house...

laura said...

The chickens are really enjoying the sun.
I worked on a book by a woman whose children all have pretty severe food allergies; there was a lot in it about Monsanto and how they make farmers pay for seeds every year rather than harvesting them from their plants, among other unbelievable corporatist schemes.
I'll go heirloom for my tomatoes this year.

Anne Marie said...

I definately have mixed emotions about this one...but the emotions are sientifically originated....I really adore heirloom seeds and what they stand for, but they haven't always done well in my climate...and as far as hybrids go, I don't particularily enjoy supporting "mansanto" type coorporations, however, some of the hybrids that have been altered from heirloom have been productive....Personally, I use organic seed, to keep up with our organic certification and because they are more disease resistance.
The best, I have found, is doing it yourself...harvest your perfect zucchini, and save those seeds!! It's the only way that you will know if it will grow well....is by doing it yourself...
Hope that helped and BRAVO for caring.

Carole@Fowl Visions said...

I'm not much of a gardener even though I think I will be learning alot more this year in my pursuit to self-sustaining life.

I love the pictures and look forward to seeing your raised bed garden. Make sure to put something around it to keep the chickens out. We have already lost our onions we planted earlier this year to my flock. I hear the eggs are supposed to taste like onions but I haven't found that to be the case as yet.

Don said...

Ruth: We need to get a little greener around here!

That is a very interesting link and is quite an education/

Don said...

julie: there is so much I don't know, and I feel like I am just scratching the surface.

Bishop has shown no interest in chickens ever since she met the electric fence!

Don said...

lanny, I look forward to hearing what you have to say! I have a feeling there is a lot more to this subject than what I scratched up!

Don said...

jennifer: that picture does look like they are being sneaky!

Chickens make me laugh

Don said...

warren: i sem to be heading that way too, but I am interested in hearing what Lanny has to say

Don said...

hot belly mama: i will watch your blog to see the birth of baby and also to see your chicks progress.

Don said...

laurie: thanks for linking by blog in your recent post!

Your raised beds look awesome. are they made of cedar?

Don said...

gwen: some hybrids are superior, i think sweet corn is an example of something i may succumb to.

we will be able to see parts of the garden from the kitchen. you are quite perceptive. but i already knew that

Don said...

laura: we planted som eheirloom tomatoes last year and they were the best tomatoes ever. I think there is something about the heirloom seeds that makes me smile!

Don said...

anne marie: are organic seeds different from heirlooms in that there were no pesticides used in the growth of the parent plant?

Don said...

carole: i have heard that about onions too. i got worried the other day when the chickens got the leftover chili scrapings. I didn't notice any influence!

Farm Chick Paula said...

I love the escape picture, Don! It looks like they're glancing at the cat with one eye, and staring down freedom with the other! LOL

As far as tomatoes go, we tried heirloom Brandywines last year, and they were AWESOME. I mostly wanted to make sauces and salsa out of my tomatoes last year but they were way too good for that. They were by far the best I've ever grown!
(Maybe the sheep poop fertilizer helped a little, too! LOL)

Don said...

paula: I have Brandywines for this year and can't wait to taste!!

I may have to buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes from the amish to can!!

What is the best tomato for fried green tomatoes??

rhonda jean said...

Hi Don, as you know, I'm an heirloom girl - in more ways than one. LOL! I don't like the idea of anyone having control over our seed stocks. You can get some okay hybrid tomatoes but I've never had any that match the taste of a brandywine, and isn't that one of the important aspects of food - the taste.

Bob Johnson said...

Don... again I am learning so much here, I may never plant seeds, but you know we have been contemplating moving to the country one day, maybe then.

Lol, the Bishop pic, that's the position my cat is in almost 24/7,lol.

Loring Wirbel said...

Wow, Ruth, I used to work with Winona in Tempe!

I vote heirloom.

Garden Girl said...

Don, I don't know which tomato would be best for 'fried green tomatoes' but I know (in the blogging sense) a woman who probably does.

Have you ever come across Hanna from This Garden Is Illegal? (www.thisgardenisillegal.com) She grows and tastes and does reviews on several (26 last year) tomatoes each year. She would be a good person to ask.

carl h. sr. said...

Don,I like the way you do your own research and don't just listen to what the county extension tells you is the 'right thing to do'.
Stick to your guns and look what a
fine outcome you will have.
I think closer to nature is the best way. But I would not rule out occasional alternatives which may be the best choice in certain situations.
Well,keep an open mind(which I am sure you already do)and keep being true to yourself!
Peace Don,
Carl

Ginnie said...

Velly, velly interestink, Don! Hmmm. I always learn something new when I come to your blog. Thanks for all the info. Hmmm. I think all of this has been in your genes from before you were born!

Also, I must say that I have a good laugh every time I see/read about your chickens! They are hysterical. :)

carl h. sr. said...

Sounds like Ginnie remembers "Laugh in" too!

shoreacres said...

I found you by reading Ruth, and enjoy peeking in.

I was doing some research for a blog of my own when I found this link to old/antique chicken prints and paintings by a variety of artists. They're simply wonderful, and I thought you'd enjoy seeing them:

http://website.lineone.net/~alanhiggs/prints.htm

Don said...

rhonda: I am excited to raise Brandywines this year. I hope I can!

I agree that taste is just about everything. It is probably true that there are some great hybrids out there that give that taste, but I guess I am leaning on the good old reliables from our history.

Don said...

bob: I learn way more at your blog! I had two great space moments last week: 1) I waw the space station zoom by, wow big and bright, and fast!
2) I had astronomer Dr. Steven Zepf in my classroom talking about the birth of stars. He also works with the Hubble telescope 2-3 days per year!!

Don said...

Loring: you should be a colorado senator! Get with it man!!

Don said...

garden girl: Thanks for the tip on the Illegal garden site.
your blog is good too, it is definitely worth the trip!!

Don said...

carl: I heard you were in the hospital for some food thing!! I hope you are doing better now!!

Doing things for myself has always been a trait, but I sure don't know very much about gardens...

Don said...

ginny: farm life is full of fun, dirt and good, clean, hard work.

The chickens are a great addition to the green barn. What did I do before they were around?

Sandy said...

ahh those chickens sprinting by the dog..hahaha. Love these photos. I have read about GM crops before and I don't know a lot but I don't like it.

Bob Johnson said...

Don that is cool you saw the very bright and getting brighter with the new solar arrays ISS fly by, but too cool to have Dr.Steven Zepf in your classroom talking about the birth of stars.

Loring Wirbel said...

Don, are you kidding? Then I'd have to get all serious and take responsibilities for my own actions and suck up to lobbyists and stuff. The power of anarchism is that you can always disclaim responsibility for anything.

Don said...

shoreacres: Thank you for the link to that web site. those old drawings are so cool!

It makes me want to get some game hens.

Don said...

sandy: today there is a hawk hanging around and all the girls are hiding and squawking.

I go out every once and a while to flex my muscles at the hawk.

Don said...

bob: I told him about your blog and he might make a visit. He said he doesn't get into the internet blogging and stuff like that.

Don said...

Loring: That's totally unacceptable. "Then I'd have to get all serious and take responsibilities for my own actions. The power of _______________ is that you can always disclaim responsibility for anything."

All of that sounds just like every politician I can think of!!!!!

Ruth said...

Cool, Loring! I am not at all surprised to hear you say that. Did you see her on Stephen Colbert last summer?

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heirloom seeds said...

Oh I can't imagine how happy you are working with these seeds! It's been very amazing for all starters and I'm sure you will get a lot of beneficial effects especially to your heath. Heirlooms seeds are also readily available online. Grab it in an all-in-one bulk! Try it now! It will guarantee you satisfaction!

jim said...

I would love to try this heirloom seeds and actually i found this site and it makes me think to order now.

heirloom seeds

nestor said...

Cool! Your blog is really informative. I started planting heirloom seeds in my garden just last year and I am really having so much fun with it. When I watch them grow I feel so much joy too.

Heirloom Seeds

heirloom seeds said...

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