Heirlooms, hybrids, OPs and GMOs

There is some confusion about what all these words actually mean, so I am posting this to clarify things.

”Open Pollenated”, or OP, means that a plant will come “true” from seed; the next generation will look reasonably like the last, so seed can be saved from them. Wild plants are generally this way, as are most traditional plants.
“Heirloom” means that the OP strain in question is about sixty years old. Every heirloom plant was new once.
“Hybrid” means that two OPs were crossed to grow the seed. If a zucchini and a pumpkin were planted next to one another, and the seed was saved, it would almost certainly be hybrid seed; bees would have crossed it. The seed you planted next year would all come up looking alike. If it was better than the originals in some way, the gardener might decide to do it again on purpose. If, however, seeds were saved from the plants grown from the hybrid seed, every resulting plant would be wildly different. Selection over may years could then create a new OP variety which would come true from seed. Most heirlooms were once hybrids. So there is nothing wrong with a hybrid. The problem comes from their modern use. Since nobody else can duplicate a hybrid, companies dropped all their traditional heirloom varieties and switched over to them, thus greatly diminishing vegetable diversity, making famers dependent on bought seed, and setting the stage for disasters similar to the Irish Potato Famine ( at that time there were only two potato varieties in Ireland.) Also, modern varieties of any sort, OPs or hybrids, are suited to modern agriculture, and need large amounts of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and perfect growing conditions. Heirlooms are better suited to low input methods.

You might be interested to know that apple seeds do not come true, since almost all of them are hybrids. You need two different trees for pollination to occur successfully.

GMO are a whole different matter. They are created by scientists in a Lab, and are dangerous on many different levels. Currently they are used to increase the control of large corporations over the food supply. However, unlike hybrids, which can be used rightly, GMOs have their own inherent risks.

I think that Heirloom varieties should be saved, because they represent the wisdom of the past; that small farmers should breed their own new OPs and hybrids, to adapt to changing conditions and methods, and to bring unique products to market; and that GMOs should be opposed in all situations.


Notes from the meeting of August 22nd

This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood. Due to a number of factors, we were unable to get any sheet mulching done. However, were were able to talk over a lot of things, and we will hopefully get the sheet mulching done next time. (This time the truck which was supposed to be delivering wood chips broke down, and we got a call to that effect about fifteen minutes before the meeting was due to start. But they think they can get it to us by next week. )

A schematic plan for the land was drawn up and debated. I will be posting this, but I have decided to refine it a little first.  Its main feature was the arrangement of the orchard so as to leave sufficient solar access for a self-heating greenhouse.

For those who might not know, sheet mulching means laying down a layer of overlapping cardboard, which smothers weeds, and then piling on about a foot of mulch. A blend of high nitrogen and high carbon materials are used, so it is rather like composting in place. It eliminates all digging, and a lot of weeding, watering, and fertilizing. However, even though we are using this method for our first garden on this site, we will have a few other types for comparison. This especially since some members at previous meetings have expressed an interest in other styles, among them waffle gardens and Biointensive/ French intensive.

Among the points discussed were the following:

It is very important to use crop rotation. To do this, we will have to section off various types of crops, though we can still use companion planting, as suggested at a previous meeting.

We can take advantage of the land slope to grow both water loving and dry tolerant crops. Among other things, corn was suggested for the higher land.

We will use Open Pollinated (OP) crops only for community plantings, but hybrids can be used on member’s individual plots. All Heirlooms are OPs, but not all OPs are heirlooms. New OPs are being breed all the time, by small companies and individual plant breeders; they will be the heirlooms of tomorrow. OP means that a strain is not hybridized or GMO, and will come true from seed.

The fence is in worse shape than we thought, and will require large amounts of work, and potentially quite a bit of money, to get it back into shape. However, the funds might be able to be generated by building and selling beehives. We will see.

A member suggested putting composting worms in any compost piles. I think this is a good idea.

Among the crops suggested, besides all the standard vegetables, were corn, potatoes, strawberries, melons, and grapes.

We could grow rare heirloom corns, thus saving valuable genetics from extinction.

We will use key-hole beds. These are rather hard to visualize or describe; you can find images online. They save on path space, look interesting, and can function as sun traps . .  or the reverse.

We will put in some sitting areas out in the field.

Here is a link to my earlier post on Permaculture, which influences the emerging layout of the land.