TZ -OH6
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Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

For the home gardener, I mean.

The tomato forum blurb caught my eye ("the fancy heirloom ones" it says) In reality, the hybrids are the really fancy ones, with all of their scientific breeding for disease resistance etc. Are Great Northern Beans fancy? They are found in every supermarket in the US and were grown by the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes when Lewis and Clark passed through.

That got me wondering. It seems to me that the home garden declined, or changed from "food" growing to hobby growing during the time that all of the improved hybrids were being developed (post Victory Garden years, especially during the Yuppy and baby boomer migration to the suburbs in the last thirty years or so).

I have no doubt that the commercial growers need hybrids for both production, disease resistance, shipping, shelf life, etc. but for home gardeners who do not can and have not been growing on the land for generations (disease buildup), is there really enough of a problem to warrant the development of hybrids aimed at the home gardener? (Except for brussels sprouts I mean, since I can't get sprouts to form on the non hybrids.)

The first tomato I ever planted, I was scared into buying whatever had the most letters after its name (V,F,N,X,Y,Z). I was convinced by the packaging that the environment was toxic and I would fail without the maximum disease resistance possible. I wonder how many other people out there are/were the same way.

The pendulum has shifted back towards growing heirlooms because in part they are now being succesfully marketed/advertized after getting some good press by some snooty chefs and foodies some twenty years ago. The times are changing. I was walking around my smallish town a few days ago and found a llama herd near the middle of town. Of the farm people I went to school with, one now has a llama farm (independent of the small herd in the middle of town), and the one who lived across the road whose family were dairy farmers, got rid of the cows. So off the top of my head, in the middle of Ohio farm country with Amish buggys here and there, I know two places to go llama tipping, but no place to go cow tipping.

For vegetables, you can find the same company trying to sell you both, hybrid and heirlooms. It is self competition. ..."Grow Burpee's Superduper Sonic Ultra Flavor-Burst tomato, guranteed to withstand all the diseases that prevent home gardeners from ever getting a bite of other tomatoes. ... Grow Burpee's heirloom Comanche Purple Brandywhiner tomato for that superb old fashioned flavor not to be found in hybrids."

I have a feeling that the home gardner got swept along in the advertizing for varieties developed for market growers and were left with those varieties when farmers switched to newer varieties that now often just go by a number rather than a name.

On the one hand you hear stories of people keeping vegetable and livestock varieties going against modern trends so they can't be 'that bad', and on the other, advertizing tells us that we will fail without improved varieties.

So what do you think? Would your garden experience be significantly impacted if you were limited to the 'heirloom' varieties that your grandparents or great grandparents grew?

Dillbert
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

methinks you've pointed out the major distinction -

hybrids are developed for specific traits. 'taste' is not normally in that competition.
commercial growers want a crop (of anything) that 'matures / is ready to pick" all at the same time and is totally immune to any known disease / pest - (pesticides / fungicides / wilticides/ etc all cost money.....)

now, skin thickness / handling resistance is less an issue with green beans that tomatoes or zucchini.
hybrids go there, heirlooms not so much.

hybrid disease resistance is potentially a factor for the home gardener. presuming, of course, the home gardener in question can recognize the difference in damage between tomato horn worms and early blight. always a problem....

personally a good tasting hybrid that is completely immune to premature / early / medium / later blight / wilt etc etc etc would be of interest. not of interest for homegrown wooden tomatoes.

TZ -OH6
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

I think one of the things I want to know is if there was a big disease problem in home gardens back in the 1950's-1960s-1970s or if they just told gardeners that there was. The local radio garden show host talks like heirloom tomatoes are going to give you two tomatoes and then drop dead. Maybe they teach that in the College Ag departments, I don't know.

estorms
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

I like the variety we have. I like the opportunity to try new things. I also have a few old favorites. It's a win/win for me.

Dillbert
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

can't speak to the 50-60's, I started in the 70's.

for tomatoes, I always put in some of both - because I have experienced the heirlooms getting whacked - with the space of just a few days they went from 'really exciting' to 'stone dead'

so it can happen; and don't forget the alphabet soup hybrids are _resistant_ not _proofed_

PaulF
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

Hybrid tomatoes were developed specifically for the commercial market. It is true there was an effort to breed thick skins and determinate growth patterns so that a farmer raising tons and tons of tomatoes for the food stream could harvest all at one time and see most of the green tomatoes make it to market in a dump truck and ripen a little on the way.

Disease resistance is just that .. resistance. Hybrid resistance may give that plant an extra day or two longer life. No big deal for the home grower, but the difference between a harvest and losing the farm for a commercial grower. Hybrids were never bred to have flavor until recently with the home grown heirloom/OP craze having consumers realize there are tomatoes that really do taste good rather than like a cardboard picture of a tomato.

Since I "discovered" (the Al Gore of tomatoes) heirlooms about a dozen years ago, I have never looked back. All the hybrids I ever grew were riddled with disease problems. The hundreds of heirloom/OP varieties I have grown since have been virtually disease free and production is generally no problem. But then, I do not grow for the market, only for personal use.

Even the most "toe-the-company-line" ag people in the University systems are beginning to face the fact that heirloom/OP tomatoes are actually every bit as good as all the Biggers, Betters, Boys and Girls out there and have flavors and colors and shapes and sizes for every gardener. It's all about the money: there is no heirloom that has a company fortune behind it to fund an ag school to get the propaganda disseminated.

Hybrids have their place just like the old fashioned varieties do. Not everyone is right for heirlooms. Some people still think a tomato needs to be medium sized, round, reddish green and tasteless.
Paul F

estorms
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

Can you list the names of some of the old fashion ones?

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prettygurl
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

Heirloom is a marketing term. The heirloom label doesn't mean the plant isn't a hybrid.

TZ -OH6
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Re: Was there ever a need for hybrid vegetables?

Actually, when the term came into massive usage for tomato, and I assume other things to, places like the Seed Savers Exhange had members debating it and the consensus was something like 'must be open pollinated and older than 40 years (maybe it was 30yrs). That has stuck with most people that deal with such seeds. Tom Wagner was criticized for wanting to call Green Zebra an heirloom because it was put on the market 1983 even though people associated it with 'older varieties. the reason was that no one else was developing and marketing anything but hybrids at the time. His point was that it was open pollinated and if you got your seeds from your grandmother it was a family heirloom eve if it didn't exist befor 1983. So "designer heirloom" came into being for the things waiting to get old enough.

"Heritage" then came into use when "Heirloom" was repeatedly used by the newer open pollinatd varieties.

but I have not seen Heirloom used for hybrids to any great extent, other than in quotation marks for really old things like Big Boy -- an 'heirloom' hybrid.

Even Burpee, who took Red Brandywine and crossed it with something that had little effect on the offspring, is not calling he result, Bucks County Hybrid, an heirloom.

So its still pretty safe to assume that "heirloom" is open pollinated, and 'Heritage" is really old.

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