I’ve Been Fooled (Secret Hybrid Vegetables)
[picture of the culprit: Purple Haze carrots from my garden]
Crimson Sweet Watermelon
Speckled Hound winter squash
Purple Haze carrots
What do these three vegetables have in common? They fooled me.
If you’ve read my Forgotten Skills book or been to one of my classes, you know that I don’t use hybrid seed in my garden. Why? Because for thousands of years, vegetable seed was free. Then, in the 1920s, someone figured out that if you crossed a vegetable with artificial pollination and kept the parentage secret, you could sell people a new kind of seed, and they and their children and their grandchildren forever more would be forced to buy seed every year.
Hybrid seed was invented to take money away from families who want to be self-sufficient.
But wait, you say (and plenty of people have said this to me in my classes). Hybrid seed is wonderful! It’s better!
How so, I say.
Well, they sputter. It resists disease better.
It produces larger crops.
But, ah, hem, haw -- hybrids are better, they say.
Who told you that? I say. The companies who sell hybrid seed, that’s who. And it’s not true.
A light bulb begins to go on.
Hybrids were invented to force people to pay for seed. They were invented for money. And if you want to buy hybrid seed, that is fine. Pay for seed for the rest of your life if you want -- II don’t care. Here is what I do care about. Open-pollinated seed (heirloom) seed is vanishing. Ninety-three percent of the varieties sold in garden seed catalogs in the U.S. in 1903 are now gone forever. Extinct. Because they have been replaced by hybrids. Because hybrids can be patented. Hybrids can be legally controlled to make sure only the creator can sell them. Open-pollinated seed cannot. Open-pollinated seed can be saved by anyone who knows the four methods for saving pure seed (taught in my Forgotten Skills book).
Getting rid of the free seed to force people to buy hybrids is greedy and wrong.
Hybrid seeds are self-suiciding. Some vegetables grown from hybrid seed will not produce seed at all (think seedless watermelons). Some will produce seed, but that seed will not resemble the parent -- you never know what you will get. Hybrid seed is designed specifically to be unreproducible at home. -- so that you have to buy your garden seed from someone.
Problem is, it is not always easy to tell which seeds are hybrid. Within the past two years, three seeds have fooled me. In many cases, hybrid seed is simply not labeled.
Take Crimson Sweet watermelon. I bought this seed on a whim in a store one day. It was labeled organic, and I know better than anyone that “organic” has nothing to do with not being hybrid -- organic seed can be hybrid all day long. (Organic just means the seed was grown without chemicals.) But I guess I was off my game on this day because for some reason I thought the seed packet said heirloom. But it didn’t. I started these watermelons in my greenhouse and they were four inches tall before I accidentally discovered, while looking at a seed catalog, that I was growing a hybrid melon. I gave the plants away.
Speckled Hound winter squash has been a real sore spot for me this year. It is growing in my garden right now, and it is beautiful. But no one knows whether it is hybrid or not. The company I originally bought the seed from sold it as open-pollinated (OP) seed. Weeks later, I stumbled upon another source that said it is hybrid. I’ve since found four places that say it is hybrid, including Cornell University, and four seed companies that say it is not. I emailed the company that sold it to me and asked them to tell me once and for all if it is hybrid or not. They never emailed me back. So who knows? There is one way to find out for sure -- I could hand-pollinate them and then grow them the next year and see if they reproduce true to the parent,. But I didn’t get around to hand-pollinating these. So there will be no more Speckled Hound in my garden.
Purple Haze carrots. I’m really embarrassed about this one. I’ve been showing these beautiful carrots off, and even featuring them in tastings from my garden when I give speeches. I was about to write a whole blog post on them when -- lo and behold -- I discover on the internet they are hybrid. The company that sold this seed to me assured me that all of their hybrid seed is marked as hybrid on the packets. But Purple Haze is not marked as hybrid. I’ve been duped. Erg.
My lesson learned? You have to be VERY careful who you buy seed from. I only know of two places to buy seed that guarantee their seed is open-pollinated. Those would be Seed Savers Exchange and Baker’s Creek Seed Company. Well, and a third place -- me. I sell guaranteed open-pollinated, non-hybrid, pure heirloom seed grown in my backyard garden. To see pictures, and what is available now, click here. -Caleb