Why You Should Include Both Hybrid and Heirloom Seeds in Your Preparedness Plan

Heirloom_Vegetables

Heirloom or Hybrid? Why not both?

On many preparedness sites hybrid plants and seeds have gotten a very negative reputation. It is well known that hybrid plants will not breed true to the parent, which means that any seeds saved from the parent plant may have worse yields, flavor, or damage resistance than the original hybrid. Indeed, since a hybrid seed is bred from the genetic makeup of several plants, it’s possible for the next generation of hybrid seed to pickup additional negative characteristics from each of the parents! Heirloom seeds on the other hand breed true year after year, allowing you to maintain the quality of taste and disease resistance with each generation. Nevertheless, I believe that hybrid seeds have their place alongside their heirloom cousins in your emergency seed stockpile.

Clarifying the facts: what is a hybrid, what is an heirloom, and what is an open-pollinated (OP) plant?

First off let’s remove any confusion in terms: a hybrid plant is one that was bred from at least two parents of different plant types, such as when you breed a slicing cucumber with a pickling cucumber. It is not a GMO plant, which has been modified in an unnatural way at the genetic level and should not be used, period. Hybridization has been done for thousands of years, and is 100% natural when done properly. It will not breed true from the seeds it produces, and in fact many seeds will be sterile. In nature, most hybrid varieties die out rapidly unless the traits they breed for are the best for surviving in their environment: in your survival garden, they will do the same thing. However, the first-generation hybrid plants are typically more resistant to disease, insects, and drought, and produce more fruit than heirloom or open-pollinated varieties.

Heirloom seeds are varieties of various crops that have proven themselves to have certain positive traits for an extended period of time. Many of these heirlooms began their existence as hybrid varieties, but were bred for a sufficient length of time and properly selected to produce a plant that can breed true. Since many heirlooms came into existence before the advent of industrial shipping and grocery stores they are not bred to have thick outer skin and a shiny, marketable look. Instead, they tend to produce better tasting and more tender fruits and vegetables, and are particularly resistant to pests and diseases in the areas they originate from. They are a  long-lived legacy for a particular region or county, and registered as such.

An open-pollinated (OP) plant is just a stable variety that breeds true, provided it doesn’t breed with any other kinds of plants similar to it. All heirloom plants are open-pollinated, but there are many OP varieties that aren’t classified as heirloom because they don’t have the longevity or a certain community that identifies with them. When it comes to seed saving, heirloom and open-pollinated are equally capable, but an heirloom variety has proven its value as a producer for much longer and probably has fewer negative traits as a result.

 

Heirloom, Open Pollinated, Hybrid...each have their uses.

Heirloom, Open Pollinated, Hybrid…each have their uses.

So, why include hybrid seed, if you can’t save the seeds from the plants?

Hybrid plants are stronger, produce more fruit faster, and are more disease resistant. A hybrid has taken the good traits from its parents for a single generation, so in effect it is a short-lived but potent “superplant” compared to heirloom varieties. They typically suffer in nutritional content and taste because the nutrients the plant takes in are focused on growing more fruit more quickly rather than fewer but more nutritious fruits. Although this is a negative for long-term growing and storage, in the first year or two of a disaster having more food to eat could be the difference between survival and starvation.

During an extended emergency, anyone who decides to start a garden after the world is in chaos will already have thousands of additional challenges: defending their gardens, learning to grow crops under the stress of starving to death when their stocks run out, and possibly working without chemical or organic pesticides and fertilizers. You’ll be digging up the yard, throwing seeds in the dirt, and hoping that they sprout, essentially. A hybrid seed with increased resistance to drought, insects and disease, and with improved yields and growth times, would be invaluable to the inexperienced survival gardener. Then, once a year or two of growing is under your belt, you could break out the heirloom seed and use your knowledge of the land to grow the more sustainable varieties on a permanent basis.

But what if you already garden with heirloom varieties? Should you stock hybrids then?

 

blight2

Blight Resistant Hybrid Potatos growing next to a non-resistant variety. Imagine having a few of these hybrids during an emergency.

Absolutely! The infamous Potato Famine in Ireland was the result of relying on one heirloom potato stock that couldn’t survive the sudden onset of a foreign potato fungus that killed all of the Irish potatoes, leaving them starving. Although it is true that given time other genetic lines of open-pollinated potatoes would have eventually filled the gap and overcome the fungus, a few tons of disease resistant hybrid potato seed could have filled in and saved many lives until a resistant heirloom could be cultivated.

If you have real gardening experience with heirloom plants and are already saving seed, you should keep a year or two of hybrids for your main food crops stockpiled in order to overcome drought, blight, and insect infestations that can overcome heirloom varieties faster than they can compensate. Again, although they’re not as tasty or nutritious generally, hybrid fruit is certainly preferable to starving!

Hybrid plants and seed are rightly considered to be a short-term option, and for any kind of extended emergency heirloom seeds are a must. But, hybrids have their place too, and should not be overlooked.

Agree, Disagree? Let us know.

This is a topic that everyone argues over, and there are many different opinions on the subject. Let us know what you believe to be the best kinds of seed for your survival garden in the comments!

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