Have you flipped through a seed catalog or shopped for seeds and wondered what is the difference between all the seed types? It can be an overwhelming experience just trying to choose a variety, the choices can seem endless.
There are open-pollinated (OP), F1 Hybrids and Heirloom. Lets discuss each and explain what each of these seed types mean below.
If your goal is to be self sufficient or to pass your favorite seeds down to the next generation you will need heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. These seeds will produce plants that will grow true from your saved seeds, IF the open-pollinated plants do not cross pollinate with similar plants. Example, if you want to save an heirloom squash variety one season, you must be cautious not to plant a different variety that same season, like a zucchini and pumpkin. Hand pollination is another option.
Heirloom, this means that the seeds have a generational history, heirloom seeds have a verified and documented history of being passed down from one generation to the next. These seeds have come from small farms that are not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture. These seeds often carry stories with them. ALL heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated are heirlooms.
Only a small fraction of the plant world are considered to be true heirloom.
Open-Pollinated, this means that the flowers of the plants are fertilized by pollinators, the wind or water. Pollinators such as wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, birds, flies and even bats. Put simply pollination is movement of pollen to a flowers stigma which results in fertilization of the flowers eggs. An adequately fertilized flower will produce seeds and fruit surrounding seeds, which ensures a new generation of plants can be grown.
Pollination is mutually beneficial to the plant and the pollinators; the pollinators benefit from the nectar, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fats and minerals. Note; Open Pollinated (OP) varieties are genetically diverse, so there can be a lot of variation in both the plants and fruits.
F1 Hybrids, This means that the plants have been selectively bred by cross pollinating two different parent plants. F1 is the abbreviation for Fillial 1- Literally "First Children". Hybridization has been around since the 19th century. Hybridization came about to improve the crop, increasing disease resistance, improving plant vigor, fruit production and sometimes flavor.
If you save seed from a hybrid and grow it, you will end up with one of the parent plants, not the plant that produced the seed. Hybrids have to be bought every year and they will usually have more uniform fruit and better growth. Organic hybrids are now available.
There is some confusion regarding hybrids and GMO's. Hybrids are NOT GMO, genetically modified. GMO's are modified in a lab setting, they are NOT hybridized.
If you want good production, more disease resistant plants, or want to put food up for storage then hybrids may be a good choice.
If your goal is to save seeds for the future, then open-pollinated heirlooms are a good choice.