Hybrids or Heirlooms?

A question that is often asked is whether it is better to grow heirlooms or hybrids? Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties which often have a history going back many generations.

But this doesn't mean that no new open-pollinated varieties are currently being created. Quite the contrary. The last few decades we have seen the introduction of hundreds of new varieties due to improved knowledge and regained interest in open-pollinated varieties. These varieties start by crossing two or more varieties of interest and subsequently stabilize any progeny that have desirable traits. For simplification reasons we will also refer to stabilized crosses as heirlooms here in this article.

Hybrids on the other hand are the F1 progeny of two distinct varieties. The F1 progeny is the first generation after a cross. F2 would be the second, etc. Often in nature the first generation can lead to progeny that have the best qualities of the parent varieties, or unique varieties.

So which one are better? Hybrids or heirlooms?

They are both good and they are both bad. It entirely depends on the variety in question , where and how you grow it, and what your goals are. There are so many heirloom varieties and hybrids available currently that there is almost always a close to perfect solution for each situation. And if there isn't that one special variety yet, people are often working on it, making new hybrids or stabilizing new crosses.

Hybrids are the mainstay in the commercial setting. Hybrids are the fastest way to develop varieties with new traits, and the market is constantly changing.

The home-grower can also benefit from commercial hybrids and many do. The heirlooms have several advantages though. There are many more varieties to choose from, you can save your own seed, and you can exchange seed with other enthusiasts.

Do hybrids taste better?

Not at all. There are bland tasting hybrids and their are bland tasting heirlooms. There are also great tasting hydrids and great tasting heirlooms. It is impossible to tell which variety is the best tasting one, because taste is a quality that depends on many factors, not just the variety. And taste is also personal. One person might see one variety as the best tasting one, while the next person totally disagrees. But in general it is not so that hybrids taste better or grow better than heirlooms or vice versa. The only way to find out what the best tasting varieties are is to try them.

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