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How to identify Heirloom, and Hybrid, Organic Seeds. What is the difference between the seeds? Heirloom vs hybrid

Updated on May 10, 2012

 Before I begin this hub I need everyone to know that I am not a gardening expert.  I haven't taken any classes on the subject or had any professional experience gardening.  I am just a back yard gardener who was confused at the different seed types that were on the market and did some research so I would make educated purchases when I began to plant my garden this year.  I didn't realize that there was such a difference in seeds and how those differences would have a major impact on the types of vegetables and fruits that I was able to harvest for my family.  I also didn't realize that the type of seeds I chose would also determine whether or not I was able to collect seeds from my plants to use in my garden the following year.  Now that I have taken the time to do some research I know exactly what I do and don't want for my garden this year and wanted to share the information with others. 

I teach first grade and have for many years.  Each year in the spring my students and I do a unit on seeds and gardening.  The kiddo's get to plant seeds, use an indoor greenhouse to make them sprout, and watch the seeds turn into seedlings and small plants.  They get to take their plants home with them at the end of the unit and I am usually left with a dozen or so leftovers that I take home and plant so my family has a few summer vegetables to harvest.  Last year my husband and I decided to actually plant our first small scale garden and had an absolute BLAST.  We put the garden right outside of our dining room window in the backyard so we could keep daily tabs on it while we were having coffee in the morning.  We grew TONS of tomatoes-so many in fact we ended up sun-drying dozens of them and have been using them in breads, sauces, and Italian dishes all winter.  We were also able to grow peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, basil, and fennel.  This year we are expanding our existing garden and putting in two more beds.  We are really looking forward to getting out in the yard and getting our hands dirty again.


Heirloom Seeds

There is a big difference between Heirloom seed and Hybrid seeds. Heirloom seeds are the kind that your grandmother and great grandmother grew. The kind of seeds that were planted before farmers began using "Modern Agriculture" techniques to mix and cross mix seeds so that the seeds would grow quickly, produce more, resist disease, and look pretty. An heirloom seed is one that passes from gardener to gardener instead of being ordered out of a catalog. Gardeners or farmers would harvest the seeds from their plants and trade them with other gardeners or farmers to have a bigger variety of fruits and veggies the following year. Heirloom seeds are consistent and produce the same type of vegetable or fruit year after year. The type of plant you harvest the seed from is the type of plant you will get when you plant the seed the following year.

Some of the pros of using heirloom seeds: The flavors and colors are more complex and intense. You won't find heirloom fruits and veggies at most groceries stores-but at roadside stands and farmers markets. The flavors of heirloom produce is said to be much better than their store bought cousins because the focus is on the flavor rather than their shelf life and appearance. You can harvest the seeds from your heirloom plant every year and have a garden that is almost exactly the same the next year so heirlooms are self sustaining and save you money.

Some of the cons of heirloom seeds: The actual fruits from the plants may not be as "pretty" as their store bought cousins. As I said in the previous paragraph-emphasis is placed on flavor not appearance. You also may have to be a little more careful when planting your heirloom seeds-they can actually cross pollinate with other plants and produce a "hybrid" variety. Most times just making sure there are several feet between the different varieties is sufficient. Heirloom seeds may not be as disease resistant as modern seeds. They may also not produce as much as a modern hybrid seed will.

Hybrid Seeds

A hybrid seed is one that has been created by artificially cross pollinating two or more varieties of a plant so that the resulting plants will have better disease resistance, produce more, and have a uniform color, texture, and flavor. Hybrid seeds are the first generation of seeds from the cross pollination process. You are supposed to get more "bang for your buck" with hybrid seeds. Just be sure to water, fertilize, and keep the bugs and weeds away and you should have a successful harvest.

Pros of using hybrid seeds: Much research has gone into the production of hybrid seeds to ensure the seeds produce plants that have the best attributes of their "parent" plants. The produce you get from a hybrid seed is more attractive and uniform that the produce from an heirloom seed. You usually get a bigger yield from a hybrid plant and the shelf life of hybrid produce is usually longer than that of it's heirloom cousin. Hybrid plants are more disease resistant than their heirloom cousins.

Cons of using hybrid seeds: The produce from a hybrid seed may not be as flavorful as its heirloom cousin due to emphasis being placed on uniformity, production, and shelf life rather than flavor. The biggest difference though between hybrid and heirloom plants is the inability to harvest seeds from a hybrid and produce the same or similar plant next year. With hybrids the resulting seeds may be sterile or produce something totally unlike the plant it was harvested from.

Organic Seeds

Organic seeds are different due to the way the plants they come from are GROWN. When growing organic produce you can't use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds or materials, or fresh manure. Because you can't use genetically engineered seeds-the seeds from organically grown plants are heirlooms. When you use organic seeds you only use things in nature to fertilize them. You can use manure-but it must be decomposed never fresh. Seaweed, compost, and fish fertilizers are also used with organic plants. Commercial pest control products are never used with organic gardening-instead benficial bugs like ladybug and praying mantis are encouraged-as well as companion planting (planting marigolds with tomatoes, onions with other vegetables to repel pests, etc).

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In Conclusion

 I hope you find the information in this hub useful.  You can use it as a starting point when doing research on what you want to use in your own garden.  If I have left anything out, please let me know, and as always I appreciate your comments.  Happy gardening,

Which type of seeds do you prefer?

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    • profile image

      Abdellah Boudhira 5 years ago

      Hello froom a farmer from Morocco, thank you very much for this info about hierloom, hybrid , organic seeds...

      I hope you follow me in my facebook page,

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Enjoyed your hub! Thanks.