Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

Hybrid or Open Pollinated (page 4 of 6)

by Ben Watson

Disease Resistance

Disease resistance is a major concern for growers and home gardeners alike. Rob Johnston, Jr., the founder and chairman of Johnny's Selected Seeds, admits that "it's much easier to breed disease resistance into F1 hybrids than it is to breed it into an OP variety, where many genes may be involved in disease resistance." However, Johnston adds, "microorganisms, especially bacteria, are pretty clever, and they can eventually find a way around single-gene resistance in hybrids."

Many in the seed trade see the growing interest in heirloom vegetables as a step backward, toward more disease-prone varieties that are inferior to modern hybrids. It is true, especially in the case of vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, that hybrids offer better disease resistance than older varieties. Yet many modern OP varieties also have impressive disease resistance. The Marketmore series of cucumbers developed by Dr. Henry Munger at Cornell is one example.

Cost

Hybrid seeds are invariably more expensive than open-pollinated seeds. The price difference has to do with, among other things, the costs of creating hybrids and maintaining breeding lines. Also, a company that develops a hybrid can charge a little more for the seed because the firm has exclusivity and because it is difficult or impossible for gardeners to save seed from an F1 hybrid.

Many people gladly pay a premium for hybrid seed--typically anywhere from a few cents to a dollar or more per packet--because seed companies advertise hybrids as high-yielding, surefire varieties. But the proof is in the growing. Set up your own head-to-head trials and decide for yourself whether the hybrid's performance justifies its higher price.

Taste

Fans of heirloom vegetables like to point to their superior flavor. But a much more useful distinction can be made between OPs and hybrids that have been developed specifically for home-garden use and those earmarked for large-scale growers. Breeders who specialize in vegetables for factory farms and food processors tend to focus on qualities other than flavor. Therefore, almost any home-garden vegetable--whether hybrid or OP--will almost certainly taste better than something that has been trucked to your supermarket from California, Florida or Mexico. Beyond that, the question of hybrid versus OP flavor is strictly a matter of personal preference. And taste, as we all know, can be highly subjective. A tomato that sends one gardener into ecstasies of delight may leave another unimpressed.

The Bottom Line

Which are the best kinds of seeds to plant, hybrids or OPs? Perhaps the most useful answer comes from Rob Johnston. His advice is to look beyond labels: "The consumer in me wants settled-down varieties," he says, "ones that might not have the power of the most vigorous hybrids but that grow well enough. It's like asking how powerful a car you need or how much money it takes to be rich. The best varieties have a certain vitality, which involves complex combinations of genes. Home gardeners, Johnston advises, should be open to growing any plant that looks interesting to them."

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