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Is it better to have heirloom or hybrid vegetables in your garden?

In the Garden

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Lance Ellis,

Should you grow heirloom or hybrid varieties of plants in your home garden?

Heirloom plant varieties are generally classified as being an older variety of plant that has not been hybridized or genetically modified. It could be a variety that your great-grandparents grew in their gardens. These older varieties reflect what people ate out of their gardens before the 1930s and ’40s, and many times during the 1800s.

A good example between a modern garden and one from an older time period would be the difference in melons. The older garden would have had smaller melons, specifically old varieties of musk melons, while a modern garden would grow large watermelons and cantaloupes.

Lance Ellis,

Proponents of heirloom varieties contend that through hybridization, we have lost a lot of the flavor and sweetness that were naturally found in older varieties in exchange for larger size and disease resistance. On the other side of the discussion, hybrids were developed for their desirable qualities including disease resistance, size, holding capacity after harvest, color and flavor.

Another significant difference between heirloom and hybrid varieties is that heirloom varieties will produce seeds that genetically are true to type if grown separately from other plants of the same species. Hybrids, on the other hand, typically will not produce seed that is true to type when self-pollinated or cross-pollinated, and you will get seeds that have different genetic characteristics from the parent stock.

Lance Ellis,

Some of the more popular older vegetable varieties or heirloom varieties you could look for include Brandywine tomatoes, Lillian’s yellow tomatoes, golden bantam corn, French breakfast radishes, Jenny Lind cantaloupes, improved long green cucumbers, Paris white cos lettuce, warted Hubbard or blue Hubbard winter squash, Blue Lake Beans, Romano beans, Kentucky wonder beans, lemon cucumbers, Ronde De Nice squash, and Violetta di Firenze eggplant.

For more gardening information, please contact Lance at the Fremont County Extension Office at (208) 624-3102.