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heirloom plants

April 8, 2010

Bulls nose peppers. Mini chocolate bells. Brandywine tomato. These are just a few of the varieties known as heirloom. They’re important as they breed “true” to type, much as purebred livestock.

Plant breeding can be confused and is confused in today’s predominantly non- agricultural world. The plant world is commonly talked of with GMO, hybrid, F1 and other terms. And heirloom. Much as a poodle bred to a poodle will have puppies that look poodle these have a predictable trait base.

GMO everyone surely associates with the “evil Monsanto” but the truth is there are many companies using GMO technology. GMO – Genetically modified Organism – can, technically, be a crossbred. Certainly if your poodle (example) breeds with a great dane the genes of the offspring are modified! More commonly the GMO is the use of a genetic trait to improve a crop, be it more disease resistant,or  prettier (important to consumers from a purchase standpoint). It’s important to note that for many years, with those disease resistant traits among others it allowed for resistant to pests or increasing yields under less than desired conditions.

So  what is a hybrid? This is the offspring of different varieties or types of plants or animals. The dog world – more familiar to many – might give these names such as cockapoo (cocker spaniel x poodle). In the plant world it may be crossing a jalapeno pepper with a big Jim to get a larger pepper with more ‘bite’. The first generation cross is an F1. This may be useful if selecting plants that grow well in a specific region, such as those that tolerate the heat of the south or winter well in northern conditions.

The reliability and predictability of heirlooms is important. A brandywine tomato is going to produce consistent brandywine tomatoes year after year. If crossed on a roma tomato it loses predictability – genetics might favor one parent or the other or you might get that perfect tomato that is good in both sauces and fresh. Those seeds are F1 and may or may not breed ‘true’.

Farms can select seeds for many different reasons. I like heirlooms for the predictable and seed saving qualities.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 8, 2012 9:29 AM

    Reblogged this on Food Choices, Farm Choices and commented:

    This was an early post for the blog, and yet still current in most ways!

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