This year we planted corno di toro heirloom Italian peppers. Since the peppers are heirloom seeds, it is possible to save the seeds each year for planting. Many of the plants in our garden are heirloom varieties; Domingo has black corn from Oaxaca, Don Emilio has red corn from Durango, and other gardeners have yellow and white corn from their homelands. The preservation of heirloom seed varieties is important to the future of sustainable growing. Encoded in the genes of truly heirloom seeds are genetics for many kinds of resistance and adaptability.
The alternative to heirloom is hybrid or “F1”. This Indicates that it is Filial 1 or first generation of the variety indicated. A good example of an F1 hybrid in animals is a mule; which is the first generation offspring of a horse and a donkey. The mule has the endurence of a donkey and the strength of a horse, but is unable to reproduce in most cases. There is nothing wrong with planting hybrids, and in fact many hybrids have been made to increase certain kinds of disease resistance in common crops. The biggest disadvantage of planting hybrid seeds is this: if you save the seeds and plant them the next year; you aren’t guaranteed to have the same variety. They may not even be viable seeds because of the basic mechanics of genetic inheritance.
Many people say that heirlooms taste better because they were bred for flavor, while most hybrids are bred for productivity, and tolerance to factory farming methods. Factory farming has led to a loss of genetic diversity in our food crops. The tendency to plant to vast areas with a single genetically identical crop is called monocropping; and the introduction of genetically modified seed varieties makes this practice even more damaging. Heirloom seeds have preserved their genetics through constant evolution and a mutually beneficial agreement with their human companions. The plant, in this case a pepper, produces tasty nutritious food and in turn the human protects the plant and sows it’s seeds the next year at the time and place preferred by the plant. You can participate in the vital task of preserving the genetic diversity of our food crops by growing heirloom seeds. It is important to have diversity in the genetics of plants because this makes them more resistant to pests, and disease in the long term.
Heirloom Seeds Resources
- Native Seeds/SEARCH is a resource for heirloom seeds
- Cultures of Habitat by Gary Nabhan is a great book about indigenous lifestyle and food
- The wikipedia page on f1 hybrid has a lot of useful information