As I prepare to start my veggie garden this year, I have already made some important choices. I chose to abandon sheet mulching and traditional rows for Square Foot Gardening, a method of raised beds and specially created three-part growing medium. I also decided to take advantage of my vertical space, so I have incorporated a trellis system into my garden design.
I have also had to make difficult decisions about what to plant. I had to really look back at my menu planner and figure out what we eat the most. Then I had to weed out the items that are not well suited to my climate. It would be a terrible waste of my energy to try to grow apples or artichokes in Miami, however, I bought and planted two different varieties of mango.
Now that I have a list of climate and zone appropriate veggies that I think my family will enjoy eating over the coming season, I am faced with yet another choice: Heirloom Seeds vs. Hybrid Seeds. I have grown both in the past and have had success and failure with both. On the one hand, last season’s heirloom tomatoes were truly delicious and absolutely worth repeating even though they produced smaller yields than the hybrid tomatoes I have grown in the past. On the other hand, I have yet to successfully grow any type of heirloom green bean. I just don’t know where I have gone wrong with the beans because it seems like everyone else is able to grow them by the bushel. I have no idea if there is a flavor difference between heirloom and hybrid beans because I have never gotten that far.
According to my research, hybrids can offer uniform fruit, often with superior disease resistances, reliable productivity, and a particular maturity range which means that you can control when you can harvest. One thing to keep in mind about hybrid plants is that they cannot be reproduced from their own seeds so you must buy new seeds from the garden center every year. Open-pollinated vegetables also have a lot to offer. Because they are reproducible from seed, you can choose open-pollinated varieties that produce great-tasting and easy-to-grow harvests and save seed from the best plants to use every season. It could be fun to become a backyard breeder this way and develop your own selected cultivar, for example, if I grew the ‘Brandywine’ variety of open-pollinated tomato in humid, rainy Miami year after year and saved seeds only from the best-tasting, earliest- ripening fruits in my climate zone, I would have a locally adapted strain of ‘Brandywine’ which would be different from the ‘Brandywine’ grown by a gardener in a hot, dry climate who has been saving seeds from fruits that produce very well in his or her climate. Additionally, heirloom, open-pollinated varieties usually have a beloved local history and may exhibit unusual colors, shapes, or flavors.
I think I will mix it up this season, I will choose hybrid seeds for veggies that are more disease prone in my environment and heirloom seeds for tomatoes and other veggies that are “naturals” for my type of climate such as collards, okra and eggplant.