For the News-Democrat
I want to know what the difference is between heirloom seeds and hybrid seeds. I am trying to decide what to plant in my vegetable garden. Also what are grafted plants and are they worth the price?
-- H.L. of Cahokia
Heirloom seeds are oldtime favorite varieties of plants, which result from pollen being removed from one flower and placed on another flower on the same plant or other plant of the same kind of tomato. Some are even allowed to be open-pollinated, which means nature's insects do the pollination. The fruits of these plants are very similar but can be different genetically.
Hybrid seeds are crosses, which means the pollen of one known selected variety of plant is placed on to another selected flower of a different variety. Then a small fabric sack is placed over the pollinated flower to prevent further pollination. In this case, only the plant breeder knows the plants chosen. This results in "hybrid vigor," which produces larger and healthier plants.
Most of the crosses in hybrids have resistance to certain tomato diseases and are selected for this reason. At present there are 13 different crosses to prevent various plant diseases. When you run into disease problems, you need to notice various characteristics of your plant's problems and then try to figure out what disease is causing it. Then find a hybrid that is resistant to it.
Grafted plants are two different plants being placed together with the rootstock being at the bottom and the scion being placed at the top. It involves the knowledge of placing the correct angle of the cut to be the same on both the rootstock and the scion upper plant. These two connected plants must then be kept in the correct environmental conditions to help the two tissues connect. Because of the labor and special environmental treatment, grafted plants have a very high price. Unless you live in an area with a short growing season, they are usually not worth the expense unless you do not have a source of water in times of drought.
There is also another type of tomato plant that you did not ask about. These are termed "parthenocarpic." They do not require any pollen for the production of fruits. This type of plant will produce seedless fruits especially in the early times in spring. They will produce tomato fruits usually two to three weeks ahead of other varieties and in cooler temperatures. But later on you will find that pollination does occur as later fruits will contain seeds.
There are also determinate and indeterminate types of tomatoes. If you are into canning or producing paste, you want a plant that produces all the fruits all together in very short period. These are called determinate.
Indeterminate plants will produce flowers and fruits throughout the growing season, which is great for if you wish to eat them fresh and for salad production.
Certain seed catalogs feature just heirloom or hybrid varieties and other catalogs which offer the full range of all varieties of tomatoes. The fun of raising vegetables is to try a few different varieties each year for flavor, hardiness and size. It makes vegetable gardening exciting. I try to evaluate about five new varieties a year.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.
Do it now
HOUSEPLANTS: Clean up the houseplants and give them their first application of fertilizer at half the recommended strength.
GARDEN BEDS: Make sure the mulch is in place.
TREES AND SHRUBS: Check them and remove any dead or diseased braches.
HARDY PERENNIALS: Time to begin planting.