What advantages do they have over hybrids?
Flavor, flavor, flavor! One of the first reasons people grow open-pollinated or heirloom seeds is the flavor. Hybrids are bred for many characteristics such as uniformity (in shape or harvest time), high yields, withstanding rigors of transport, etc. But, sadly in the breeding process the desirable characteristics like flavor and nutritional value suffer. There’s truly nothing as delicious as a sun-ripened home-grown heirloom tomato. You tomato lovers out there know just what I mean when I say we suffer each winter, waiting for the first delicious tomatoes of the next garden season. 🙂
Heirloom seeds have a higher nutritional value
Interestingly, studies have shown heirloom or open-pollinated vegetables to be significantly higher in vitamins and minerals than their hybrid counterparts.
Seed saving ability, with true-to-type results
With hybrid plants the seeds you may try to save from them are often sterile, or if the seeds do produce, they revert back to either a parent plant, or a mutated version of both parent plants. Not exactly what you want when trying to save seeds from a plant you liked the fruit from!
Ability to adapt seeds to your own garden.
One awesome benefit of growing and saving your own heirloom seeds is that over time you can “develop”, so to speak seeds/plants that are well adapted to your own garden. Year-after-year saving of seeds gives you seeds that have “learned” how to adapt to your garden and gardening methods. “Take a nice, old variety that has a lot of redeeming qualities, and select what performs well in your garden save those heirloom seeds, and you can create your own locally adapted variety.”
Longer harvest time
Hybrids are most frequently bred for a uniform harvest, all plants coming to maturity at one time, to allow for one big harvest, getting it all done in one fell swoop. This may work well for the commercial grower, but it is not really practical, or even desirable, for the home gardener.
Tried and true varieties.
By the very fact that heirloom/open-pollinated varieties are “old” varieties, we know they have stood the test of time proving their excellent characteristics. The heirloom seeds that we have today are the result of careful selection for the earliest, hardiest, juiciest, best tasting, most healthy and heat/cold/disease tolerant varieties that were grown. These are the reasons they have been favorites for so many years!
Preserving heirloom seed diversity
There is a big problem many are unaware of with the influx of hybrids, and the lack of seed saving. Many gardeners just buy their hybrids seeds, plant them and go about unaware. Numerous heirloom seed varieties are becoming increasingly rare and hard-to-find or some are just plain becoming extinct. This decrease in the diversity of seeds/plants is concerning. Why is seed diversity important? Seed varieties all have varying traits, including disease and pest resistance. When only a small number of varieties are popular and grown everywhere, then what happens when widespread disease or pest infestations happen? The crops that are susceptible fail, severely affecting food supply. This is exactly what happened in the well-known Irish Potato Famine. This is not the only concern, really. It is also sad to loose varieties that have been preserved, often times for hundreds of years, generation to generation. By growing the great heirloom seed varieties available, we are playing our part in keeping them going, preserving this piece of living history.