Hybrids: Triumph over Diversity?

Come gather round while I weave you a tale that began on another continent. It’s a tale of oppression, grinding poverty and escape to a new land. It’s a saga of long sea voyages and harsh, unknown territories. But although the storyline is coloured by hardship and loss, it is also lightened by hope and the promise of a better future, a place to build anew.

Close your eyes and imagine them, those first immigrants, laying open the earth with crude tools and determination. Carefully unwrapping precious seeds gleaned from faraway gardens and carried across oceans and continents to lie in untried soils. Tending them as they would their own children, for these seeds are their past, their present and their future

Heirloom seeds each have their own story to tell. Like many of the best stories, they have been handed down through many generations, often within one family or in a relatively small geographic area. Although all heirlooms are open pollinated, not all open pollinated seeds are heirlooms. To be considered an heirloom, a variety must have been stable for either 25, 50, or 100 years, depending on whose definition you choose.

Believe it or not, some of these wonderfully diverse cultivars are endangered. Hybrids, which certainly have their place in the garden, have inexorably edged out varieties that have remained true to their ancestors over decades and centuries only to find themselves practically collectors’ items. This year as you make out your seed order, include a few of these venerable survivors. After all, seeds are the one thing whose sustainability relies on using more, not less.

(This year Wellspring Gardens is planting over 30  heirloom tomato varieties from Terra Edibles in Foxboro. If you want to sample these and other heirloom vegetables for the season, check out the farm CSA Program.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. 29 heirlooms! That’s so cool. We’ve lost so much of our seed diversity over the years that I really commend people like you and the seed savers who are working to preserve them.

    Reply

    • Thanks Tammy. I’m just learning about seed saving, but I figure that even if I just get people eating heirloom tomatoes and asking about their stories, it’s a start 🙂

      Reply

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