Rethinking seeds, from the ground up
April 3, 2019 6:12 PM   Subscribe

"Michael is a squash breeder. I said, “If you're such a great squash breeder, why don't you figure out how to make a butternut squash taste good? Instead of chefs doing these heroics of roasting, caramelizing, adding maple syrup and gastriques, just create the thing and make it great.” And what he said to me was probably what changed my appreciation for the work that breeders do and also got me thinking about how to engage them more. He said that in all of his years of breeding, no one had ever asked him to select for flavor." Chef Dan Barber talks with The Splendid Table's host, Francis Lam, about rethinking seeds.

(Audio at top of page; transcript follows.)

Barber: "I did a very deep, delicious dive into the history of cucumbers. What I learned is that cucumbers, first of all, do you know cucumber is poisonous? The original cucumber is poisonous, so what we're eating is a weird genetic thing that happened to the cucumber...But the original heirlooms, the older varieties, have quite a bit of bitterness to them. They don't kill you, but they tingle and they have a depth of flavor that's exciting."

Author, food historian, and seed preservationist William Woys Weaver, on The Vital Role of Heirloom Seeds: "The point to raising heirloom vegetables is not so much an escape into the past...but rather a search for greater diversity in our present diet and a healthy rejection of industrial agriculture” (by Erica Shames, Susquehanna Life).

Cherokee Purples, Green Giants, Great Whites, German Pinks, Banana Legs, Paul Robesons, and more: From Green Zebras to Black Brandywines (by Andrea Strong, TASTE).

Because what'd life be without homegrown tomatoes?
posted by MonkeyToes (51 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest a long time ago. My mother and aunt were farm girls, saving seeds year after year and selecting seeds for future harvests. I live in Georgia now, but planting time comes soon.

Thanks for this post, MonkeyToes. It reminds me of wet, dark dirt and seeds, waiting.
posted by catlet at 6:30 PM on April 3 [15 favorites]


Gardening in San Francisco can be tough. Our summers (and winters!) are entirely unpredictable. They tend to the chilly- but not frosty- except when they aren’t and we get 90 degree heat waves in October. Because of that, In order to grow tomatoes you can’t just pick a variety you like the taste of- you have to carefully look at its requirements and temperate likes and how much water it likes- etc etc. Because of that most of the really yummy heirlooms that I love to buy at the farmers market are just not doable. I mean- I love my sun gold cherries- and we’re pretty good as far as paste tomatoes go, but those fancy multi-color heirlooms are a total crapshoot. But! I stumbled unto a Russian heirloom tomato this weekend called a “black krim”. It’s a medium globe tomato- the type which tends to be a little eh in San Francisco gardens- but being a Russian heirloom, it was bred to perform in the cold! I just planted the plant- it’s a little runty and it’s gonna rain some more so there’s no guarantee... but I try to plant heirlooms of every other vegetable I plant and it’s really nice that maybe, just maybe, I can grow a good heirloom tomato this year that won’t die if it’s a little chilly this summer.

Great post MonkeyToes!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:33 PM on April 3 [9 favorites]


Old recipes -- Mrs Beeton, IIRC -- always soak the cucumbers once or twice before serving them, which I now assume was to get rid of the bitterness. IIRC someone got very ill a few years ago because she ate very bitter cucumbers (apparently the cucumbers had had a bad insect season).

I'm kind of annoyed by the article for not acknowledging about the existing seed houses all over the country (world) that make a living growing for flavor and regional suitability. An ancillary to Big Ag swaggering in and trying to co-opt everything that Big Ag profited by driving out it is annoying, even if it does get more people to notice what we've nearly lost.

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties !
posted by clew at 6:39 PM on April 3 [10 favorites]


We got a lot of stuff from farmstands when I was a kid; or we got stuff from my grandfather's back yard or our own garden we started with some neighbors. Burpee seed packet stuff, still, but still stuff that was growing only a couple hours before dinner.

Everyone looked at me funny when I was a kid and didn't want dressing on salad. But the reason I didn't want dressing was because the vegetables I was eating had taste, and I wanted to taste that. I'm surprised at the idea of cucumber being bland - it definitely has a taste to me, a cool faintly melon-y kind of thing; and that's your average supermarket cucumber, I haven't even gotten into Kirbys or Persian cucumbers yet. Different lettuces have taste - even iceberg - and then there's celery and carrot and tomatoes, all of those tastes are different and I didn't want to much those tastes up with highly-seasoned funky glop.

Squash too. They talk about how most recipes throw all kinds of roasting and seasoning into butternut squash dishes, and say that breeding vegetables for taste would spare you having to do that. I already don't - I never wanted all that mucking up squash in the first place. The best squash soup recipe I know of involves nothing more than squash, a couple garlic cloves, water, and maybe salt. No roasting, no mucking about with orange juice or curry or anything like that. Similarly one of the most delicious carrot soups I ever had was at a restaurant in Paris where I blinked when I realized that the carrot soup actually tasted like carrots instead of like some weird sweet curry-ginger-spiced thing.

I definitely agree with the need to emphasize the taste of the produce we develop instead of the yield and shelf life. But this kind of thing is already out there at the smaller local farms and they could really use the business.

This is also what us locavores were thinking about ten years ago; y'all were snickering at us for being hipsters, but we were too happy eating perfect tomatoes to care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 PM on April 3 [23 favorites]


Mefites: They don't kill you, but they tingle and they have a depth of flavor that's exciting.
posted by feckless at 7:08 PM on April 3 [39 favorites]


I don't quite get this perspective. There are many many seed companies breeding heirloom, regionally appropriate, flavorful and not necessarily for high-yield and robustness. Heck even Burpee has a line of heirloom now.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:22 PM on April 3 [8 favorites]


I guess I'm always a hair skeptical of articles about the wonders of heirloom varieties because they often presuppose you have the time or means to have access to them.

They fit into the realm of cooking articles that assume the average person has the time and resources to make buying whole chickens and turning the remains into stock. It's all well and good but it ignores the reality of what life is actually like. I love garden fresh vegetables and heirloom varieties and I grow some myself but they're a hobby not a reasonable source of food. Vegetables that grow well in a reproducible fashion are a staple of modern life. A Cherokee purple certainly tastes great but it's not accessible to most of the country. What is is canned romas.

We all make compromises with regards to what we can manage, but food always has a sanctimonious stink about it.
posted by Ferreous at 7:25 PM on April 3 [10 favorites]


Hybrids are good but GMOs are bad? Pick a lane.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:30 PM on April 3 [21 favorites]


I haven't saved seed in years but I'd like to start again. When I was first trying to grow container tomatoes in my high altitude, short season, high desert garden, I figured out a few Mediterranean varieties that did okay, saved the seed from the biggest fruits, and the next year had a great crop. I love the concept of a "landrace" variety that's been strengthened to its region over time, and when I try to grow something a few times and have poor luck with it, I find that doing a little research on what other people around me are growing and even borrowing seed gives much more stable results.

tl;dr - gardening is fun.
posted by annathea at 8:03 PM on April 3 [7 favorites]


Okay, let's get back to the Black Krim again. We're off topic.

It is, hands down, the tastiest tomato that I've ever met. Highly recommended, perfect blend of juiciness, sweetness, and tartness. AMAZING TOMATO.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:33 PM on April 3 [16 favorites]


I grew 18 varieties of squash in my Minneapolis yard last summer because fuck mowing the lawn. During the dead of winter I read about these Row 7 guys and ordered 3 types of their bespoke squash seeds. Will this year’s flavor science win over last year’s unexpectedly delicious Kyrgyz Palav Kadu victor? Will I regret paying extra money for chef-driven seed hype? The bespoke seed dudes claim that even the stems of their delicata squash are edible, but I asked them via Instagram what they taste like, and they ignored me. I AM SO CURIOUS. I guess I’ll find out in August.
posted by Maarika at 8:39 PM on April 3 [26 favorites]


Hybrids are good but GMOs are bad? Pick a lane.

Very different phenomena.
posted by amtho at 8:41 PM on April 3 [10 favorites]


Okay, let's get back to the Black Krim again. We're off topic.

It is, hands down, the tastiest tomato that I've ever met. Highly recommended, perfect blend of juiciness, sweetness, and tartness. AMAZING TOMATO.


Oh I'm so glad to hear this. I agonized over whether or not it made sense to take a gamble on an heirloom in SF, and the Sloat people only sell the tomatoes that will grow here, and very conspicuously it was the only heirloom they had, so that it's also tasty gets me all excited!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:09 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


Very different phenomena.

Meh, you say (hybrid) poe-tay-toe, I say (gmo) poe-tah-toe.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:10 PM on April 3 [6 favorites]


I grew 18 varieties of squash in my Minneapolis yard last summer because fuck mowing the lawn.

... I wish to subscribe to your newsletter
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:28 PM on April 3 [35 favorites]


Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate is very good, too.

And not to speak for everyone, but most reasonable people who object to GMOs and not objecting to the technique, but to the consequences to the environment if the deployment of patented herbicide resistant seeds, the dangers of homogenized monocultures, and Big Ag’s dependance on fossil fuels for fertility and pest control.
posted by lydhre at 3:34 AM on April 4 [12 favorites]


I've been seed starting for a decade or so now- no more box store veggie starts for me. I have no interest in most of the seeds that you can find on the seasonal cardboard rack at the box store, either. If I'm going to put the effort into caring for a vegetable garden (which is a fair amount of effort), I'm going to grow varieties that you can't find at the store or local farmers' market. I've got a crush on the Experimental Farm Network, a non-profit seed co-op in the Philly/ NJ area. From their site:

"The purpose of EFN is to drive innovation in truly sustainable agriculture by facilitating collaboration on plant breeding and other research. Our focus is on using traditional methods (no genetic engineering!) to develop new crops and new varieties of old crops suited for organic and agroecological production, especially carbon-sequestering perennial staple crops.

We believe agriculture can and should be used to help build a better world, not help destroy it. As the planet warms and the climate changes, it is critical for all of us to do whatever we can to prepare for what lies ahead. We need to preserve and expand crop biodiversity. We need to grow more perennials to trap carbon in the soil. And most of all we need to put the brakes on neoliberal capitalist exploitation of the planet and its inhabitants."

so sure, yeah, breed for FLAVOR, but I'm kinda feeling like shouting GROW WEIRD STUFF! GROW NOVEL STUFF! Fuck you, Blue Lake Bush Bean! Piss off, Better Boy!

And back to the squashes- this year I'm jumping into the SQUASH BREEDING pool with Prof Shifriss' Golden Acorn Squash.
posted by bathysaurus ferox at 4:37 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


The Black Krim is, imo, the second best tomato. The very best is the Rose de Berne. No acidity at all and so tasty that the best way to enjoy it is raw with maybe a little salt or a little olive oil.
posted by snakeling at 4:41 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Huh? Butternut squash is delicious as is. Just roast it. Or chop it up and make it on the stove. Add some sage, garlic. I never understood those weird ass Thanksgiving recipes that add marshmallows and syrup...yuck.
posted by agregoli at 5:26 AM on April 4 [10 favorites]


Every winter the potato breeder would take potatoes out of storage and borrow our autoclave to cook huge patches of them in aluminum trays. We would then help him rate them. DId they hold up to storage? Did they discolor where peeled? Did they have a good texture? Was the color pleasing? Were the "eyes" sunken, making them hard to peel in industrial canning? Were they uniform in size and shape to make them harvestable with machinery and make them useful in bulk processing? Did they taste good?

There were a lot of variables, and that's not counting the ones rated before we tasted them: yield, resistance to potato blight, days to maturation. Taste was only one factor, but it was a factor. Taste alone didn't make a useable potato cultivar. One of the tastiest hierlooms, Green Mountain, could be grown in limited acreage and sold at farm stands, but not commercially at a larger scale, because it was lumpy and irregular.

We loved doing this, of course. We had a tradition of massive bowls of winter potato salad, to use up all the really delicious ones.
posted by acrasis at 5:26 AM on April 4 [12 favorites]


My parents live up the street from a family farm in backwoods rural CT, where they grow primarily potatoes and butternut squash. They don't advertise it as heirloom or anything, just "butternut squash," for something ridiculous like 75 cents/pound. The squash that comes out of the ground there is otherworldly. Put a little pat of butter on it roasted, or even do something mundane like cube it and steam it, and it is the most amazingly subtle and flavorful thing you've ever eaten. Both my kids ask for it specifically ("grandma and grandpa squash"), and it has completely ruined me on all other squashes. Between us, we buy 75-100 pounds of it every fall, because it keeps for six months if you store it somewhere dark and dry, and it pairs with anything. And this is literally the first time I've thought of saving seeds to try and replant myself. Hello, summer project!
posted by Mayor West at 5:51 AM on April 4 [7 favorites]


Huh? Butternut squash is delicious as is. Just roast it. Or chop it up and make it on the stove. Add some sage, garlic. I never understood those weird ass Thanksgiving recipes that add marshmallows and syrup...yuck.

I'm all for people resurrecting or creating better-tasting vegetables, but I agree with this in terms of the sweetness. Commercial butternut squash is plenty sweet already (however, while sometimes you get a tasty one, usually they are kind of bland otherwise) and the marshmallow/syrup kind of recipes are, to my tastes, unpleasantly oversweet.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on April 4


I too am puzzled by the squash teaser. What adding of stuff to squash does is make people that don’t like squash eat dishes made with it, but asking them to breed a new squash that tastes like a constructed dish using squash as an ingredient seems like asking someone to breed a chicken that tastes like mayonnaise and onions because you like chicken salad.

I’d like to briefly address the issue that growing your own heirloom veggies is a lot of time and work “like making stock from chicken.” If you want chicken stock (who doesn’t?) you can throw five pounds of chicken legs, a halved onion, and maybe whatever else you have sagging in the fridge (except cabbage!) in the instant pot for a 45 minute bath. When done, strain and discard all solid matter and boom, wonderful chicken stock. If you want to shred and save the meat, make it 25 minutes. It is the reason I have an instant pot and I tried growing vegetables a few times and believe me—the garden is a much bigger time suck.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:15 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


People add various sugars to squash, but I like it savory. Olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe rosemary. It roasts well and is delicious pureed. Or with stuffing and sausage. Team Squash, with the exception of zucchini. You can buy good butternut squash at stores, but quality tomatoes and strawberries, not so much.

I buy seedlings. Broadway Gardens, in the Portland, me, area, has a decent selection of tomatoes and they are growable in this climate. Now, of course, I want the varieties praised above.

My garden has no more snow but planting is a ways off. Time to plan. Also time to trap and remove some squirrels. (Havahart)
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


In Southern California, we have Tomatomania - it's a traveling heirloom tomato seedling sale that happens between the middle of March to the middle of April. They have probably 15 stops between San Diego and Ojai with 280 varieties of heirloom tomatoes every year, and every year I buy WAY too many. They've also been carrying heirloom cukes, squash, and peppers the last couple of years. They also sell worm castings and all sorts of other fun garden stuff. I make a point of going to the one nearest to me within 4 hours of them opening every year.

This year, I planted 8 tomato varieties, 3 cucumber varieties, 2 squash and 4 lettuce. I am already reaping the benefits of the lettuce. I can't possibly eat that much salad, so I'm giving some to the neighbors. Our neighborhood food swap is in two weeks and I'm going to have enough chamomile (volunteer, but PRODIGIOUS) and lettuce to haul in all of the kumquats I can can (ha. can can).
posted by Sophie1 at 8:27 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


Maarika: Will this year’s flavor science win over last year’s unexpectedly delicious Kyrgyz Palav Kadu victor?

snakeling: The Black Krim is, imo, the second best tomato. The very best is the Rose de Berne.

These sound like entries in a listicle titled, "Heirloom Vegetable or Harry Potter Dragon Breed?"
posted by wenestvedt at 9:07 AM on April 4 [20 favorites]


On the top of the shelving unit at my work cubicle is a little baggie where I am trying to start some Habanada seeds. (The office is considerably warmer than my house, and gets good light through some giant windows.)

Come on, little seeds! You can do it!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


I'm so pumped to read this because I just got some habananda seeds in a seed exchange. Now I know the rest of the story! If they're as good as I hear maybe I'll try some of their other seeds.
posted by Naib at 10:26 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Wow, habanada sounds really interesting. I was growing habaneros for a while at home but couldn't really use them as much as I'd like because they were too hot for everyone else. A variety with all of the taste but not the heat would be fun to play with. I'm going to have to find some seeds for them (or find an actual pepper and just collect the seeds from it).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:02 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I've never heard of habandas, but my plant store sells "Fooled You Jalapenos" which are the taste of jalapeno peppers with none of the heat. I like growing peppers because they are the easiest in my climate, are very colorful, and don't require much water or care. I'd take de-heated versions of all peppers so keep at it seed breeders!
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:52 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


We've had fun seeing which random farmers market squash self seeds from my compost. I figure that the seeds know when to emerge, so it makes planting them that much easier!

My most favorite go-to squash recipe is the SmittenKitchen Squash toasts, which I make with goat cheese instead of ricotta. "no syrup in my squash" people may turn their nose up at it, but it has caramelized onions and bite from cider vinegar! I could eat that out of the container all day long.

Also, does anybody notice how sometimes carrots have a bitter aftertaste? They cook up fine, but sometimes they get a weird after taste when raw.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 12:32 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Huh? Butternut squash is delicious as is

I too am puzzled by the squash teaser.


I'm with you, but what if we're wrong? What if we just have a reasonable tolerance for a very bland tasting squash, and we could be eating a really super flavorful squash?

I remember m dad talking shit about "Gadsden County Tomatoes" when we lived in Florida -- mushy, gritty, flavorless tomatoes. Very truck-transportable.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:33 PM on April 4


I’d like to briefly address the issue that growing your own heirloom veggies is a lot of time and work “like making stock from chicken.” If you want chicken stock (who doesn’t?) you can throw five pounds of chicken legs, a halved onion, and maybe whatever else you have sagging in the fridge (except cabbage!) in the instant pot for a 45 minute bath. When done, strain and discard all solid matter and boom, wonderful chicken stock. If you want to shred and save the meat, make it 25 minutes. It is the reason I have an instant pot and I tried growing vegetables a few times and believe me—the garden is a much bigger time suck.

If you're starting from the point of having a relatively expensive kitchen gadget and the space to store a bunch of stock I think you're missing the point. Obviously gardening is more time consuming but not everyone has the time or resources to make stock or do elaborate home cooking in general.
posted by Ferreous at 1:14 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I know there are a lot of folks with nonsensical fears about the dangers of GMOs, but a lot of people active in farming and gardening have objections that are about intellectual property, not health and safety*. Hybrid crops and genetically modified crops are good things! The corporations patenting GMOs are not! If my neighbor develops a tasty hybrid squash she's not going to sue me when it cross-pollinates with my pumpkins.

*my caveat here is that many GMOs are modified to allow for the application of more toxic chemicals, which is an enormous health hazard for farm workers. I care about this and will yell about it at length.
posted by libraritarian at 1:34 PM on April 4 [14 favorites]


re: bitter carrots

Sometimes when they're harvested too early, the ratio of certain terpenes are higher than the sugar content and (some terpenes) can taste bitter. But terpenes are volatile (evaporate easily) and thermolabile (broken down by heat) so cooking can get rid of them.
posted by porpoise at 1:42 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I'm with you, but what if we're wrong? What if we just have a reasonable tolerance for a very bland tasting squash, and we could be eating a really super flavorful squash?

Counterargument: the conventionally-understood description of "super flavorful" when it comes to squash is "throw lots of sweet juice and curry-adjacent spices in", and I found those flavors are exactly what I disliked about squash soups.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on April 4


I'll occasionally get a bitter taste from celery, rarely from the entire bunch but more often from a single stalk, which is weird. Chimera?
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:27 PM on April 4


For anyone who appreciates tomatoes like Black Krim, Paul Robeson or Black Trifele, I suggest trying Black Vernissage. They are both sublime and highly productive. For anyone questioning the value of zucchini, please give the Italian heirloom 'Costata Romanesco' a try for firmer, drier flesh and a touch of artichoke flavor. And for pole beans, another Italian heirloom for the win, 'Trionfo Violetto'.

/plant geek
posted by vers at 5:47 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]




And for pole beans, another Italian heirloom for the win, 'Trionfo Violetto'.

YES! I have planted several this year and last year they were VERY productive, really powerful vines too- and gosh I just love purple produce!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:18 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I definitely want to grow all of these seeds! Even though I already love butternut squash and cucumbers and peas and very earthy beets. The interview was a bit grating in Dan's attitude of "no one's EVER thought to select for flavor before!" Also, I am a little skeptical that "most" cucumbers are susceptible to powdery mildew. Most of the cucumber varieties in the main seed catalog I order from are listed as powdery mildew resistant. I suspect they still had to select for that as they were breeding, but it doesn't sound like a breakthrough to me.

Compare the Row 7 operation with my frenemy, the Honeycrisp apple. Changed the game in terms of branding of apple varieties. Demanded by consumers. The trees? An embarrassment. They have so many problems. They break off at the graft union (where the honeycrisp part of the tree is joined to a different rootstock which keeps the tree at a smaller size). They build up carbohydrates in their leaves reducing photosynthesis and causing wilt. They lack vigor and die young. They tend toward biennial bearing (every other year). Their apples tend to be totally enormous or small and of poor quality. They split at the stem and are prone to storage problems. They are the worst!

So the U of MN, creator of the Honeycrisp, is always trying to come out with the next big thing. They did well with the SweeTango, a much more manageable tree, better flavor, still nice and crisp. Now their big thing is First Kiss, which has several nonsensical elements. It requires a random spray in the middle of summer (I forget what exactly, or why.) It is harvested very early, but is a good storage apple. What? Why would any smart Minnesota grower fill their cooler in August with something to sell in November?

Sorry, that is a lot about apples. But I can appreciate the people who were making demands on this seed breeder. There are a lot of nice apples that don't get the honeycrisp love that I think are FAR superior in terms of taste complexity. But they grow on reasonable trees and they aren't called honeycrisp, so oh well.
posted by Emmy Rae at 6:58 PM on April 4 [12 favorites]


There are a lot of nice apples that don't get the honeycrisp love that I think are FAR superior in terms of taste complexity

Yes. Like Pink Lady. Delicious! I don’t know anything about growing them. But they sure were amazing at DC farmers market. So many good apples up there. The ones in Dallas, where I live now, aren’t nearly as good. Sadness.
posted by Neekee at 7:43 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


About the bitterness in carrots: people in my gardening group are always advising against leaving them in the ground too long/after it gets warm in order to avoid bitterness.
posted by Neekee at 7:45 PM on April 4


Oh man, it's already the first week in April. I may have missed planting season down here in the circle of hell that is the southern tornado prairie. When I bought this property, I had intended to put gardens in most of the acreage, but as the lupus marches on, this year I'm not even sure I can do a single 10x10 bed. I've sort of just given up and given the back yard to the bunnies and crows and butterflies and possums.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:28 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Row 7 is great! There are also, as mentioned by several above and that you probably know if you garden or farm, a lot of other companies and projects breeding seeds for flavor (+yield +disease resistance +thriving on minimal inputs) with, shall we say, less effective PR than Row 7.

a small handful I've tasted or worked with their products:
Experimental Farm Network
Territorial Seed Co
Washington State Crop Improvement Association
Wild Garden Seed
Uprising Seeds
Adaptive Seeds

There are also breeding projects, often at universities, where you can get access to seeds, participate in field trials, or that aggregate available seed varieties:
Seed to Kitchen Collaborative
Organic Seed Alliance Directory
OSU Barley World
If you're not a grower but are interested, taste new varieties at a Culinary Breeding Network event

There seems to be some confusion in this thread about what "Hybrid" means in the context of seeds. If you see the word "hybrid", this almost certainly refers to F1 hybrids, which take two separate lineages within a species, breed them together, and then sell the resulting seed. The plants that grow from those seeds have first-generation hybrid vigor and uniformity, but if you pollinate them and try to get more seeds out of them, the resulting 2nd-gen hybrids (the F2 generation) will be highly variable and mostly not show the characteristics of F1 parents. Most commercially available food plants, and even chickens, are F1 hybrids. The characteristics are not stable and only exist in the moment of crossbreeding, so 2 totally separate lines of genetics (the two parents of the F1 hybrid) have to be maintained.

Unless otherwise specified, the seeds we're talking about here (both heirloom and new) are "Open Pollinated" varieties, which means that the characteristics of the plant come from a stable lineage, rather than the only-last-one-generation synergy of two lineages. Open pollinated seeds, when bred and saved for seed, will produce child seeds with the same characteristics of the parent plant.

More info on F1 hybrids vs Open Pollination

obviously the word "hybrid" has meaning beyond the technical term of "F1 hybrid". When developing an open pollinated seed, either now or back in history, you would do some hybridization- breeding together different varieties or sub-varieties and saving the seeds from the plants that showed the characteristics that you liked. The genetics of an heirloom seed were being actively selected and tended to until at some point the farmer(s) stopped, not necessarily at the highest point of perfection they could take the seed. These new varieties a la Row 7, being open-pollinated, have much more in common with heirloom seed than with F1 hybrid varieties. There was, as far as I can tell, a narrowing of open-pollinated seed development in the US (and Europe?) starting in the 1920s/30s as F1s caught on commercially, but this slowed development and recent pickup of interest creates a false perception that new open pollinated varieties lack some phenotypic/genetic special sauce that heirlooms have, when they really have a lot of similarities.
posted by zingiberene at 7:08 AM on April 5 [7 favorites]


Big fan of Territorial Seed Co. I get most of my seed from them or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have a nadapeño pepper that takes the heat out.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:32 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]


We should have some kind of MeFi Garden Filter....
posted by Sophie1 at 8:34 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


We should have some kind of MeFi Garden Filter....

Too bad The Green and The Brown are already taken.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:45 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]


Black Krim and Rose de Berne show as 80 days to fruit, which is less ideal for my Maine garden. But if Broadway Gardens has either, I'll try a seedling.
posted by theora55 at 9:12 AM on April 5


Ok, clew mentioned Breed Your own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe with insufficient fanfare. It is an incredible book! Carol Deppe is a brilliant geneticist-turned-plant-breeder with a focus on subsistence farming and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

GO READ SOME BOOKS BY CAROL DEPPE! Or some essays on her website. Forgive the funky web design, she's busy breeding vegetables and writing useful stuff.
posted by sibilatorix at 8:28 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


I didn’t know that cucumbers had a flavor until cucumber melon scents became popular when I was a young adult. Then I thought that if they actually smelled like something, they must taste like something, too. Until then, I just assumed that they were grown in order to produce flat discs that bulked up salads and carried dressing.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:26 AM on April 7


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