The other choice of seeds available to you besides regular seeds or heirlooms are hybrid seeds and F1 hybrids.
Hybrid seeds are first-generation seeds that come from plants with two very specific parent plants. They can only be produced by crossing with exactly the same parent plants.
These seeds are often sterile and can be unreliable in carrying across the feature of the parent plant that is desired.
On the other hand, F1 hybrid seeds tend to be marketed as ‘guaranteed’ to provide an identical and reliable plant that will germinate successfully. These F1 seeds will be bigger, faster-growing and higher-yielding than traditional regular or heirloom seeds, but seeds that have been developed to produce high yields will always be lacking in other areas like their ability to resist disease and pests, they will generally be lacking in hardiness. This makes them high-maintenance and they will require specific nutrients, herbicides, and pesticides in order to attain their full potential.
F1 hybrids are primarily created for the large scale commercial markets and are specifically designed to be convenient for farmers to grow.
They are created through meticulous hand-pollination and are then usually patented by the company responsible for their creation. Each seed produced is identical, and they are often sterile.
F1 Hybrids are aggressively marketed as the answer to farmers’ problems; they produce high, successful yields, as long as the farmer also buys the right fertilizer and chemicals to go with the seeds. But you are also getting a genetically unstable seed. This means that if you want to save the seeds from your crop and try to grow them the following year if they do actually grow, it is unlikely you will get anything like the same shape, size and yield as the parent plant provided, and most of the time the subsequent generations will be inferior specimens.
This, of course, is intentional to force the farmers to return to the seed company and buy more seed year after year, rather than saving the seeds to re-plant. In fact, most F1 hybrid seeds are patented by the seed companies, and their contracts with the farmers forbid them from saving seeds to use in subsequent years.
Made primarily for the supermarket farmers, not the home-gardener
Tomatoes, for example, F1 hybrids will usually be a strain of tomato that has tough skin – making them easier to transport. They may also be developed to be disease resistant to certain types of disease and bugs, and will often produce a single crop, timed to ripen all at the same time to aid harvesting.
This is fine for the farmer, but not always necessary for the home-grower.
Hybrid seeds will often produce a better looking, larger crop, but they can be inferior in taste and essence – usually the very thing that the home-grower seeks.
Compare the taste and texture of an organically grown heirloom tomato to one purchased from a supermarket grown with hybrid seeds, and the difference may be immediately noticeable.
As these hybrids are usually developed by the same people who manufacture and sell farm chemicals, they can and are developed to be vulnerable to a particular type of disease, forcing the farmer to not only buy the seeds each year, but also the chemicals as well, creating huge profits for the seed producers.
Are all Hybrid seeds the same?
The general hybridization of plants has been a natural process that has taken place in nature all of the time.
When buying normal regular seeds, they may or may not include some hybrid varieties. Each plant from these seeds will look pretty close to the picture on the seed packet, but only the intensively cultivated F1 hybrids will produce a crop that is identical. Normal regular hybrid seeds have a mixed parentage, a bit like the difference between a mongrel dog and a pedigree dog. F1’s are the pedigrees, but like most pedigree dogs, they have genetic flaws.
With the seed companies being such huge businesses and having an influence on government policy, it may come as no surprise that buying heirloom seeds (the natural alternative to F1 hybrids) in some countries has now been outlawed.
There is currently legislation being proposed in the US that will outlaw the act of growing food with the intentions of supplying it to other people (even if it’s a relative or a friend), unless specific, and apparently, expensive growing conditions are met (and licensed), which may include the mandatory use of additives, chemicals, and pesticides.
This proposal is being introduced under the guise of it being for ‘public safety’, due to some recent alleged salmonella outbreaks in stored vegetables.
The proposed bill is labeled: HR875 and S425 and could technically make gardening illegal in the USA! This article is a must-read.