Green Side Up

Garden talk with Gazette community blogger Janice Peterson.

Both hybrid and heirloom vegetables deserve love from gardeners

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Janice Peterson
Monday, August 19, 2013

I enjoy growing both heirloom and hybrid vegetables. Heirloom plants (also called “heritage”) are open-pollinated, so seed can be saved at the end of the season. They are typically older varieties praised for their great flavor and texture. Interesting historical stories are often attached to heirlooms, such as 'Mortgage Lifter' tomato. In the 1930s, “Radiator Charlie” Byles was able to pay off his house mortgage by selling this popular tomato plant! An heirloom pole bean named 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' was carried by the Cherokee tribe during the infamous 1830's relocation march from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma. One of my favorite Italian peppers, 'Jimmy Nardelo', was carried by Mrs. Nardelo in 1887 from Italy to the U.S. where her son, Jimmy, continued to save and share the seed.

Hybrids are another type of seed available for our vegetable gardens. Hybrids are the result of two parent varieties being deliberately crossed to produce the hybrid seed. These crosses produce desirable traits like better yields and disease resistance. A rather magical phenomenon called hybrid vigor causes these wonderful traits to occur. Unfortunately, saved seed will not grow true the next year (the offspring will be a mix of many different physical types). Two popular hybrid tomatoes are 'Big Boy' and 'Early Girl'.

Do I prefer heirlooms or hybrids? I love them both! Some of my favorite vegetables are heirlooms ('Japanese Black Trifele' and 'Snow White' are the best heirloom tomatoes in my opinion) but you sure can't beat the great production and consistency of 'Country Taste' or “Sun Gold' hybrid tomatoes.

How about you, do you stick only to heirlooms or hybrids? Are you trying something new this year?


Janice Peterson has worked as a grounds horticulturist at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville since 2002. She is a master gardener with the Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association. Though her education is in plant science, she considers her love of gardening and strong back to be her true qualifications. Janice is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of The Gazette staff or management.

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