Pardon me while I rant about genetics

tomatoes basil mozarella

Tomatoes are yummy and so should you

When I was in college, my favorite class, hands down, was genetics. I still spend time pondering genetics, it is utterly fascinating to me. This probably makes me a big nerd or something. I also like tomatoes. So tomatoes + genetics = An orgy of pondering. So ponder this: If you had a pocketful of tomato seed would you rather have heirloom tomato seed or hybrid tomato seed in your pocket?

Let’s see, what is good about heirloom tomato seed? Allegedly heirlooms taste better. True in some cases, not true in others. They are open-pollinated, which means the next generation will be the same as the parent plant. Caveat: This is only true if there is no cross-pollination with other cultivars.  Also, heirlooms are location specific. They survived over the years because they do very well in a certain climate, soil, type, etc. , so if you have a really awesome (for Italy) heirloom like ‘San Marzano’ but you live in, say, Kansas, where I live do you have an awesome heirloom? NO. Around here ‘San Marzano’ sucks, grow ‘Opalka’ or ‘Black Plum Paste’ instead. Not that there aren’t some heirlooms that do well in lots of places, there are. The point here is: don’t grow heirlooms that don’t grow well where you live. What would the point of that be? Unless, of course, you’re a seed collector like me, an addiction that I’m trying to overcome, then collect away! That baggie filled with seeds to give or throw away never fills up as quickly as it should for me.

And what about hybrid seed? I’m sure some would say “Nothing” and then proceed to rant about all those evil evil agriculture corporations. I disagree, though not always about agriculture corporations. There are some awesome tomato cultivars, some of my favorites, that are hybrids! Sweet Million.  Sugary. Goliath. So their chilluns won’t be the same, I’ll have to keep buying seed from some evil evil company if I want to keep growing them. But does this really matter? Hybrids’, particularly F1 hybrids’, offspring can vary wildly so I won’t end up with the same thing I had before but what if, IF, I ended up with something even better? And I keep breeding it back to itself till I end up with the coolest bestest open-pollinated tomato cultivar for NE Kansas, ever? That would be sweet!

So what do I have in my pocket? Hybrid AND heirloom tomato seed. Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. These plants, they gotta be so complicated.


One thought on “Pardon me while I rant about genetics

  1. “Heirlooms” are hit-and-miss here as well. ‘Opalka’ had a delightful flavor but productivity was dismal. Plain boring old “Roma’ is grown commercially down the road a bit, and it has been a winner with delicious sweet taste AND productivity. I guess the key is to keep trying different kinds to see what works.

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