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Heirloom Vegetables: Heirloom vs Open Pollinated

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Forum: Heirloom VegetablesReplies: 19, Views: 166
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desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 3, 2012
11:48 AM

Post #9068304

So here I am again. Trying to learn and understand some of these differences. My latest foray into deeper understanding was inspired by receiving a seed from EdenBros.com(whom I understand is a DG seller/advertiser) that was listed as an heirloom, but is shown here on DG Plantfiles (and elsewhere around the web) as a hybrid. I feared that perhaps my understanding of what an heirloom variety is was incorrect. Does an heirloom by definition need to be open pollinated? Well, here is what I found:

"The definition and use of the word heirloom to describe plants is fiercely debated.
One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant can have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade. Some heirloom plants are much older, some being apparently pre-historic.
Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word "heirloom" in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.
Additionally, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as "commercial heirlooms," cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down - even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Additionally, many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.
Regardless of a person's specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus ensuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_plant)
EdenBros is looking into the matter of the Silver Queen corn seeds I purchased, but since there seems to be a bit of difference in opinion on exactly WHAT defines an heirloom I thought I would ask you all here. Opinions?
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 6, 2012
1:28 PM

Post #9072143

All Heirlooms are O/P. Not all O/Ps are Heirlooms. Heirloom is the story behind the seed and how long its been around, that part is up for debate. Vintage are usually varities that have been stabilized or created by institutions or companies ie. Campbells or Universities, but are O/Ps.

There is a lot of info on DG about this, have you tried a search? But yes all Heirlooms are O/P, this isnt my opinion its a fact. Commercial Hybrids are produced yearly so we always get the F1 generation with the same parentage. Example-a Celebrity tomato always has the same genes.
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 6, 2012
7:38 PM

Post #9072615

Well in that case see my watchdog report on EdenBros. They are selling hybrids that are NOT open pollinated as heirloom. Their response to my inquiry is that the hybrids are 50 year old varieties. *sigh
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 6, 2012
7:46 PM

Post #9072624

99% of what I grow is O/P everything. You will get more and better answers then mine if you post on the veggie forum. Yes, the people over there would be interested, because Hybrids cant be carried down generation after generation every year its F1 seeds. Ill have to check your WD response. Can you provide a link?
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 7, 2012
12:31 PM

Post #9073217

Thank you, lisa. I have been slowly moving toward planting ONLY open pollinated and heirloom veggies over the years (finances are so tight and I was swayed by the cost) and this is my first year absolutely committed to growing nothing else. I will check into the veggie forums, and after this EdenBros issue I am committed to only buying from sellers who have taken the safe seed pledge. Here is the link to my watchdog post re: EdenBros. I think it links to the entire thread, but atm mine is on top.
http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/7147/
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 7, 2012
9:04 PM

Post #9073665

Thank you for the link. When I checked it was at the bottom. I didn't realize they moved. Lol

Would you mind posting this on the veggie forum? I think it's very important and people would be very interested in this. You could provide a link to here. If you noticed there has only been 21 "views" on this thread. The veggie forum gets a lot more traffic and there are some very knowledgeable people there.

You could even post a Threaf titled something like This Company sells hybrid heirlooms. That would grab a lot of attention.

OBTW, I'm original from SoCal too. I lived in the San Fernando Valley.
Doug9345
Durhamville, NY
(Zone 5b)

April 8, 2012
6:42 AM

Post #9073919

One piece of advice I'd give is to assume corn is a hybrid unless it is specifically listed as an open pollinated variety. As far as heirloom goes, I'd research every selection I made and not rely upon catalog descriptions which are primarily marketing tools not information tools.

Personally I'd draw the line between what an individual family or group saved seed from and old commercial varieties independent of age, but that is just me.

Since one of my goals is to save seed, open pollinated is important. I don't personally care if George Washington ate one of it's grandparents or not. If I like it and it grows well for me then it is in, otherwise it is out. Other people have other goals.
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 8, 2012
8:58 AM

Post #9074077

Doug-my main issue is that they are advertising a hybrid as a Heirloom. I've just NEVER heard that. It seems like an oxymoron. I figure that if 1 company is doing it there must be more...I would like to see this posted on a more active forum so we can get more info. I don't know anything about corn. If it's listed as an heirloom I'd assume it was O/P, since that's part of the definition. Soooo confused!
Doug9345
Durhamville, NY
(Zone 5b)

April 8, 2012
12:15 PM

Post #9074263

I tend to agree with you. You can't be the only one that complained because I went to their website and noticed that Silver Queen is no longer listed under heirloom seeds and they use classic in the description. If you look at the latest posting on the garden watchdog it is a comment on the same thing.

Since heirloom doesn't have a set legal definition I just ignore it. What I'd like to see is that a vendor has to define what they mean when they use it. I navigated around their selection some and I don't see any huge glaring errors. It does look like it's merely a marketing tool for them because I don't see varieties that I'd expect to see if they were actually trying to have a good selection of heirlooms. I've never ordered from there but their claim to fame seems to be low prices on bigger quantities.
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 8, 2012
1:14 PM

Post #9074316

I didn't complain. The person who started the thread did, that's how the thread got started.

I don't know about a true legal meaning but if you google Heirloom, O/P is part of the definition. And I have bought from seed companies that give definitions of Heirlloom and it always has O/P in the definition. It seems very misleading. I wish they would repost on the veggie forum I think we would get a lot more info from people in the know, like Farmerdill.
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 8, 2012
4:58 PM

Post #9074608

Ok Lisa, I posted it on the veggie thread. Hopefully we'll get more input and get the word out. I think I will check my seeds again and add the 2 or 3 other varieties they sent me that do not even meet their "50 year hybrid" definition of heirlooms. Maybe they will change those as well. I wonder how many other "heirlooms" they are cheating people on?
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 8, 2012
6:41 PM

Post #9074728

Thanks, Im wondering if others will be surprised as well? I guess we will see.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 9, 2012
4:45 PM

Post #9076127

I agree that it's very misleading to call any F1 hybrid an "heirloom".
Any definition of "heirloom" specifies an "open pollinated" and stable variety.

Another word that's sometimes mis-used is "open pollinated".

"OP" has a widely-accepted specific meaning: a variety or cultivar that is genetically stable enough to come back true to its type (if pollen comes only from that variety and not other nearby varieties of the same species).

Succeeding generations will resemble the parent generation if you avoid cross-polination.

That's a useful definition, and I never saw any other definition of "OP" in a seed catalog or textbook.

However, some seed traders label pkts "OP" to mean "randomly cross-pollinated". I guess that is a warning that it might have cross-pollinated extensively with other, unspecified, nearby varieties. But now I don't know when "OP" means "this is a stable variety", and when "OP" means that half of the genes in the seed pkt came from other, unspecified varieties.

Even the DG glossary includes the incorrect usage, unless the "also referred to as" sentance is intended to be the actual definition. Hopefully I misunderstand the intent of the first DG definition.

by talinum
"Pollinated by the wind, insects, birds or animals, not by human manipulation.
Open-pollinated plants or seeds are also referred to as non-hybrid."

by melody
"An open-pollinated plant will grow true to type each year. It produces offspring exactly like the parents.
An open-pollinated plant can also be pollinated by itself if it has perfect flowers."

Maybe it was intended to mean "a variety which will come true EVEN IF pollinated by the wind or insects..." ... but that ignores the need for separation distances.

I wish they would just say "randomly cross-pollinated", or "grown right next to other Zinnia varieties".

I always assume that traded seeds may be SOMEWHAT cross-polinated, like 5-20%, unless the seed trader specifies that she or he made specific efforts with separation distances. After all, who knows what's in bloom at a neighbor's house 1/3 mile away?



1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 9, 2012
7:04 PM

Post #9076353

Rick- I believe I'm speaking for many long time growers, but maybe not. If I buy seeds as O/P that have a specific name I'm assuming that they were collected correctly (bagged, isolated, pollinated by hand) so they will come true to said name on the package that I bought and paid for.

If it's a trade I am very appreciative if the person I'm getting the seeds from knows what they are doing or is truthful enough to tell me the blooms were not bagged etc. In a large trade I received tomato seeds that said not bagged so I knew there was a good chance they weren't pure. I was thankful the person was so truthful. The above definition is true. It's up to the trader to know what they are doing to keep them pure. But I know in a trade I'm taking my chances but the definition hasn't changed, and the above is correct in that the plants weren't hand pollinated overseas to produce a well known hybrid, that may now be called an heirloom.

However, my expectations are higher for seeds that I buy from a company, that are a named variety. Those I expect to come true. However, if hybrids can now be called Heirlooms that only adds to the confusion.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 9, 2012
7:43 PM

Post #9076413

>> If I buy seeds as O/P that have a specific name I'm assuming that they were collected correctly (bagged, isolated, pollinated by hand)
>> But I know in a trade I'm taking my chances
>> my expectations are higher for seeds that I buy from a company, that are a named variety.

I agree with all of that, with this possible exception. When I buy a named variety, I HOPE the grower did it carefully with isolation distances and/or tents! Not so much for Wal-mart cheapos: if those are 90% pure I think I'm lucky. And some mailorder firms are vague enough about names that I wolnder what they might substitute for what.

But the places I still buy from, I trust a lot, like Jonna, Hazards, Tainong, Kitazawa, Johnnies, Territorial, Baker Creek, Swallowtail etc.

With trades, I would only assume "bagged and hand-pollinated" if they said so. And I have started to realize that many seed traders may have many related varieties in the same yard or even the same bed. I no longer assume that I can necessarily propagate a pure strain from traded seeds unless the trader spelled it out that she or he goes to a very unusualy degree of trouble to keep strains pure.

I think that if I'm still ambitious to multiply pure strauns, I need to start with a very trusted seed source, and then propagate from there.

But for "just growing stuff" for my own garden, 80-90% pure is plenty good, and if seeds are 'collected from' a patch of XYZ strain, but there are some cross-fertile QRS plants in a bed 30 feet away, I;m going to have plenty of fun growing them in my garden, and just bear in mind that atypical plants probably aren't mutations, they are just the natural outcomje of hobbyists sharing their hobbies with each other.

But I go crazy over mis-using the terms! "Heirloom Hybrids" is worse than "jumbo shrimp"!

And I may just start telling myself that I misunderstand anyone who labels F2 hybrid seed "OP".
Probably the intent is considerate, warning that the seeds were"collected from" the named plant, but not necessarily "pollinated by" the same variety.
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 9, 2012
10:29 PM

Post #9076549

I agree Jumbo Shrimp, New Big Dwarf tomato (bred at the turn of the century) but it was new then, Heirloom Hybrid, are oxymorons. Since nobody agrees on the age of a heirloom I thought it was agreed upon that they were O /P. Sheeesh...
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 10, 2012
10:33 AM

Post #9077083

Wow! I had no idea that the term OP was as fraught with misinterpretation as "heirloom"! Please forgive me for repeating myself if you are reading both threads, but as I said on the veggie thread: "I am so grateful to everyone who has weighed in on this. I am not a horticulturist. If I'm honest I'm not buying heirloom seeds to preserve the species for posterity. What I have been seeking with the purchase of heirloom seeds are open pollinated plants that will set seed reasonably true to the parent plant, that I might collect and save seeds and thereby save money through the many (hopefully) years of gardening I have ahead of me. Yes, I do have concerns about the whole GMO controversy, but I am content in that if I grow my own food and am careful about where I buy my seed I can reliably eat non GMO foods. (Whether or not GMO seeds are being produced and marketed to home growers is a matter for those with better research skills than I. It is simply too difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff given the glut of [mis]information on the interwebz.) I just want to be able to save seed that grows and tastes like the plant I saved it from. These varied definitions and marketing tricks have made it difficult, but I have a better understanding now, both of the terms and of my needs/desires. I'll be making sure that the seed companies I buy from are providing me with seeds that will indeed set seed that is true to the parent plant and give a d*** what anyone cares to call it! LOL"
1lisac
Liberty Hill, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 10, 2012
1:03 PM

Post #9077251

The definition for O/P really isnt fraught with misinterpretation. The definition is very straight forward and clear, it's the humans that make the errors in their ability to save and collect seeds. But when you are buying seeds that really shouldn't be an issue, if you buy from a reputable seed source. That being said an heirloom hybrid just doesn't make sense, and I wouldn't buy from a company who sold them because I find it very dissipative. Until I saw this post I had never even heard of them, there are too many reputable seed companies to bother with those that aren't.

How's it going with the seeds that you purchased that didn't even fit their definition of Heirloom?

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 10, 2012
2:04 PM

Post #9077313

>> open pollinated plants that will set seed reasonably true to the parent plant, that I might collect and save seeds

>> that really shouldn't be an issue, if you buy from a reputable seed source.

A lot of sensible things are being said here! I should prbably have prefaced my own rant with "MOST people use the term OP sensibly, BUT a few people sometimes abuse it".

A few seed vendors state up front that they ONLY sell OP seeds. I like that, but I do buy some hybrid Brassicas (e.g. Bok Choy) out of desire to try new things, and the fact that I can't save OP Brassica seeds "cleanly" anyway because I grow several varieties and most of them WOULD cross-polinate.

Swerving somewhat off-topic, an exception to the rule that I can't save Brassica seeds just surfaced in my garden.

An heirloom Italian leaf broccolli (OP, traditional variety from the Old Country: "Broccolo Spigariello" or Brassica oleracea var. 'Spigariello' ) reminded me of how cold-hardy it is by thriving right through my last winter. Now, it is finally putting out many budding heads like mini-brocoli, and this morning one head opened one bloom! It's finally going to seed!

Even though I have only seen it called an "annual vegetable", doesn't that make it a biennial? After all, it grew without blooms or seeds in one growing season (summer/fall 2011) and it is floweriing in the next growing season (spring 2012).

Or does the fact that I planted it late last spring, and it is only seeding now in early spring mean that its life cycle is less than 12 months and hence this is its "first year" and it's still an annual?

Either way, it is OP and I have no other Brassicas even planted yet, so I don't think it will cross pollinate with anything thios early in the year (4 days past ou avg last frost date)..

One seed vendor reminded me that Brassicas are insect-pollinated, and a busy bee can fly 1/3 mile, so some neighbor down the road might have some bolting early broccolli that a bee could get pollen from, hitch a ride on a passing car, and then drop onto my 'Spigariello'.


P.S. Bok Choy is Brassica rapa var Chinesis so my B. oleracea var 'Spigariello' should NOT cross-pollinate with that (B. rapa and B. oleracea are different species). My 'Spigariello' should "only" cross-poillinate with: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, Gai Lan, Brussels Sprouts and Kohlrabi.

greenbrain

greenbrain
Madison, IL
(Zone 6b)

April 25, 2012
3:44 AM

Post #9096847

I enjoyed reading thru everyone's comments on this thread. I have encountered the same inconsistencies when searching for only open pollinated seeds & expecting that any heirloom would also mean open pollinated. I'm planting seeds that I've been saving for going on 10 years now. I tell my adult children that these saved seeds will be my legacy. : )

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