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What's Better: Open-Pollinated or Hybrid Vegetables?

Open_Pollinated_VeggiesWhen buying seeds and plants, gardeners can choose between open-pollinated and hybrid varieties. In this newsletter we'll fill you in on the differences between the two, including heirlooms, a type of open-pollinated plant.

Open-Pollinated: Designed by Nature

Open-pollinated plants and seeds are those that occur naturally. Many gardeners choose open-pollinated varieties because sometimes Mother Nature does a pretty good job all by herself. Over many years, varieties that did not do well dwindled while those that thrived in their particular environment multiplied. But in addition to this process of natural selection, Mother Nature has been helped along by people. That's because gardeners who liked something about a particular variety would save the seeds and replant them the next growing season. Varieties that no one cared about literally fell by the wayside.

When you buy an heirloom plant or seed, you are getting a variety that some particular family or community made a point of preserving over generations. However, all open-pollinated varieties that have been grown by gardeners over the years have been subject to this process of human selection, as well as the process of natural selection that happens automatically.

Advantages of Open-Pollinated Varieties

brandywine_pink_tomato_MBesides the fact that they are 100% natural, one main reason people choose open-pollinated varieties is because they can save the seeds and plant them the following year. This is not true of hybrid seeds, which can only be used for one growing season. People also like open-pollinated varieties because they are sometimes as good as or better than anything plant scientists have been able to come up with through grafting or crossbreeding. The superior taste of Brandywine heirloom tomatoes for example, is something that many people know about from articles, books, and word of mouthor from having had one in their mouth! Though not as disease resistant as most hybrids, people buy them for their flavor.

Finally, open-pollinated varieties are better for the environment because they encourage species diversity. As they continue to pollinate through the open air, new variations spring up, because that is what happens in the natural life cycles of open-pollinated plants. Some of these variations turn out to be improvements. In this way, plant diversity is increased, and Mother Nature gets to give us new gifts of superior varieties.

Hybrids: Better Living Through Science

Bee_Pollinating_CukeAs plant science developed, scientists came up with increasingly sophisticated ways of improving on Mother Nature. The earliest hybrids were done by selective plant breeding that simply involved controlling which varieties pollinated each other. For instance, scientists would take one variety of corn and pollinate it with another. They found that in almost all cases, crossbreeding made the resulting plants hardier. They referred to this as hybrid vigor.

Simple cross-pollination gave way to double crossing, and ever-more sophisticated techniques. Plant characteristics were carefully analyzed and it became possible to tweak a plant in order to increase disease resistance, or the size or amount of its yield. Time to maturity could be shortened, and even its color could be adjusted.

People buy hybrids because of all these advantages. Certain hybrids such as the tomato varieties Big Boy, Early Girl, andBig Beef, have become enormously popular because of how hardy they are, how big they get, and how quickly they mature.

As science has advanced, scientists found they could do everything on a microscopic level by identifying and splicing genes. This was the beginning of bioengineering and led to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), a subject we will discuss in a future article. Suffice it to say that we do not carry any genetically engineered seeds or plants.

Happy Gardening from Garden Harvest Supply!

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