In the Garden with Lori and Jack: What’ll It Be? Hybrid or Heirloom?

—Photo by Sam Moore

It’s been a great past few months enjoying the slow-paced winter on the Island. My husband and I have been able to spend lots of time together with Jack, showing him new things and watching him take everything in like a little sponge. I have figured out the best way to get him excited about getting dressed and getting his shoes on in the morning: telling him we have to go let the chickens out and give them their food!

We go out together hand in hand to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. Then we carry the eggs back to the house, and he stops. He won’t let go of the egg … he’s already broken about a half-dozen since we have started doing this, but eventually he’ll understand. If he’s being really stubborn and won’t let go, I ask him if he wants to carry in firewood. Usually then he will nicely give me the egg and go over and continue carrying in wood until the rack is overflowing. My husband and I agree that we want to raise Jack with the knowledge and skill to be able to live more sustainably.

I was trying to come up with a topic for a spring article, and thought, I could write about seed starting or fertilizing, but I’ve covered that. Then I thought about vegetable gardening, and how being able to grow your own food is so rewarding — and Jack had a blast in the garden last year, watching everything grow.

As a momma and a wife, I try to make sure I am feeding my family healthy meals, even if that means sneaking a can of chickpeas into a batch of peanut butter cookies (haha, true story. Jack ate some, Bill ate none. I hate to waste food, and they eventually all disappeared). I started looking into different varieties of vegetables to figure out what I want to grow this year. The biggest reason I started looking at heirloom seeds is because you can save the seeds from the previous year’s crop and use them the following year. Hybrid seeds are usually two varieties that are crossed to make them more disease-resistant, or to produce higher yields. Therefore they can’t be grown from seed of the previous year’s harvest, because they would revert back to one of their parent plants. So for sustainability’s sake, I decided to look more into heirloom seeds.

With heirloom varieties, each year they are propagated from the previous year’s seed, they become more adapted to your growing conditions. If you are good about collecting your seeds each year, the plant will naturally become stronger. Each year, pick your healthiest plant, and then take your seeds for the following year from that plant. It’s crazy to think that heirloom seeds have been handed down from generation to generation and traded among farmers and neighbors. The varieties we have today are the same varieties that have been passed around for years. There’s got to be a reason these varieties made the cut.

Hybrid seeds are bred to produce higher yields, and to be more resilient to pests and disease. Many commercial growers depend on their plants to produce larger quantities, and hybrid plants make that easier for them. Does the higher yield sacrifice taste? I think it depends on what you are comparing. I have had good luck with both heirloom and hybrid varieties in the past — they were both great.

Heirloom versus hybrid? I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. I personally like the idea of using heirloom seeds, just because I think it’s fascinating how long these plants have been around, and how they have adapted over time. There are organic options for dealing with pests and disease, if needed. Neem Oil is used quite often in organic practices. If I were looking for plants that would specifically produce a higher yield, I would consider hybrid plants. You can grow your plants organically, whether they are heirloom or hybrid. I think being careful about what you are putting on your edibles and using sustainable practices are the most important things.

Most of the essential nutrients we need to survive come from plants, from the air we breathe to the fuel that keeps our bodies going. I love that Jack is learning the basics of homesteading. He just thinks it’s fun now, but when he gets older, these skills will help him take care of himself and his family.