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Cucurbita Seed Types
Cucurbita Seed Types

Heirloom

heirloom

Heirloom seeds are best known as the seeds that are saved each year and passed down from one generation to the next. Since not everyone is lucky enough to be gifted with saved seeds from your grandparents, heirloom seeds are sold in seed packets in stores across the country and in online seed shops. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, meaning they are pollinated by wind or insects like the honey bee flying from one flower to the next. The beauty of heirloom seeds is that they have a rich history, some of them dating back several hundred years.

Fast forward to the 1700s and1800s. In the burgeoning United States, families grew food on their subsistence farms. They saved seed, selecting for the best traits. As seeds from this era got passed down through the generations, they became heirlooms. This is no different than passing down heirloom furniture or jewelry! So the definition of an heirloom is seed that has been grown and passed down over many generations.

Heirlooms also carry stories. A friend of mine gave me some family heirloom bean seed. His ancestors had bought land in the Midwest in 1830 – they did not have time to build a home before winter, so they erected a tent. It was the worst winter for the area in many years, all their livestock died and they were sure they would die too. That is, until indegenous Kickapoo people found them while out on a hunt. They went back to their village and returned with enough beans to feed the family through winter, with extra to plant in the spring. The family has grown decendents from those same Kickapoo beans for almost 200 years now.

All heirlooms are open pollinated, but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms. Only a small fraction of the plant world is considered heirloom.

Open pollinated squash

open-pollinated, not usually heirloom

Open pollinated seeds are seeds that do not need any human intervention to be pollinated since nature does this naturally with wind and insects. Sometimes people may confuse heirloom seeds and open pollinated seeds since they can both be pollinated without human intervention and can be saved and regrown the next year. The big difference is that there are new varieties of open pollinated seeds being created by natural pollination and haven't been around for decades or centuries like the heirloom seeds. Like heirloom seeds, open pollinated seeds are an excellent choice for gardeners because of their natural ability to pollinate and regrow each year from saved seeds.

Open pollinated means the flowers are fertilized by bees, moths, birds, bats, and even the wind or rain. The seed that forms produces the same plant the following year. Some OP plants are self-pollinators. This means the structure of the flower allows fertilization before it opens.

OP varieties grow out true every year. They are genetically diverse, so there can be a lot of variation in the plants and fruits. Since agriculture began about 12,000 years ago, people have been choosing the qualities they like in a plant, such as fruit size, flavor, growth habit, heat and cold tolerance, and uniformity, saved the seed, and continually grew it out year after year. This is plant selection and can only be done with OP seed.

Hybrid squash

hybrid

Hybrid seeds are produced when two different but related parent plants are cross pollinated. Over a century ago some gardeners and farmers used this method to create a new generation of plants that had the characteristics they desired. This method eventually became popular for larger scale agriculture. A hybrid plant will produce vegetables, but the seeds in those vegetables will not typically produce the same vegetable. You will likely end up with inferior plants of different varieties. The seeds may not grow at all or may grow and produce a less desirable result. This results in typically having to buy new seeds every year. Hybrid Seeds are often marked 'F 1' on the seed packet. One of the few hybrids I grow every year is the super delicious, sweet Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes . I’ve tried saving seeds and regrowing them with no success. These things are SO delicious, they’re the one hybrid I’m willing to buy every year.

F1 Hybrid

Farmers have selected seed for thousands of years to improve the crop. Hybridization came about to further improve food and flower crops. F1 hybrids are the result of two plants with specific characteristics being deliberately crossed to produce a new third variety. If you save seed from a hybrid, and grow it out, you will get one of the parents, not the plant that produced the seed.

Hybrids are usually more productive and vigorous than OPs and heirlooms. They sometimes have disease resistance bred into them, and their growth and fruiting habits are uniform. You have to buy hybrid seed every year and now organic hybrid seeds are available.

There is a misconception that hybrids are genetically modified. They are not! GMOs are modified in a lab setting, but they are not hybridized. You can feel safe buying hybrid seed.

If you want good production, perhaps for putting up food for winter, or need disease resistance, buy hybrids. If you want to save seed, buy OPs or heirlooms. But don’t be afraid to use all types! A major benefit of saving your own seed is that your plants will be acclimated to your local growing conditions. They will be hardier than from seed grown elsewhere.

Mixta-Moschata cross

Landrace squash

Landrace strains are ones that are indigenous to a specific location. Landraces can be said to be the oldest types of crop cultivars. They had been domesticated by traditional farmers around the world who often initially selected from wild populations. Then the crops adapted over time to suit the local environment of soil type, fertility and water availability, flavour, altitude, ripening times, storage, general climate and more.

The traits of Landraces are their genetic variability which give them flexibility to cope with a range of environmental pressures such as diseases, drought, and other threats so that an entire crop will not perish in one go. They also often rely on low input therefore yields can be marginal. But always the best plants would survive and seeds saved for the following sowing relies on the fact that ‘like breeds like’ and thus strengthening the strain of cultivars.

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