In the world of gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, there is a raging debate – heirloom versus hybrid. It is a subtle one that has been overshadowed by that whole organic versus chemical debate (which is so fierce it can occasionally cause sharp cutlery to be pulled out at respectable gardening clubs around the world).
Heirloom versus hybrid. Nature versus nurture. Vinyl versus download. Edward versus Jacob.
And it can get confusing, especially for a new gardener, whose only exposure to the word “hybridâ€ thus far is shortly followed by the words “save the planet, buy now, zero percent interest financing availableâ€. Hybrid is best, right?
And here is where the debate rages. It is a healthcare debate in a two party garden system. Which is better, hybrid vegetables or heirloom vegetables?Â And before you assume I am firmly on one side or the other, I will let you know that I am not.
First, let’s define the issue.
Hybrid vegetables are generally regarded as newer varieties that were bred specifically for mass consumption and for certain mass interest traits. Things like disease resistance, superior production and even an inability to reproduce can be bred into hybrid varieties.
Heirloom varieties are generally over 100 years old and have been bred for local cultivation. They are often bred for color, flavor, size and local weather condition resilience.
So which is better?Â Just like your religious affiliation or favorite color, it is really, really a personal decision.
I personally do grow mostly heirlooms, but I normally throw a few hybrids in there as a failsafe. Â As mentioned, hybrids are bred to survive and heirlooms are bred to please. Give me a good heirloom tomato any day, but I have to say that I do look with some longing across the fence at my firmly hybrid growing neighbor’s garden every summer and envy her superior production. In my mind, heirloom versus hybrid is more of a quality versus quantity issue. Both have merit.
Yes, hybrids have squeezed out the heirloom varieties in terms of what people produce. In their corner, hybrids have a multi-million dollar industry lobbying for it while heirlooms are a grass roots effort. Industrial production stomping firmly on the old ways.
But, you also have to consider that there is a survival of the fittest factor going on here. Â No matter how you cut it, for your average home gardener, hybrids just perform better.
I think that we as gardeners need to find a balance. Make space in the garden to save history while still enjoying modern advancements. Think of it as playing Mozart on your iPod. The two can coexist.