Seeds: Open-Pollinated vs Hybrid

Another choice to make when ordering seeds is between open-pollinated or hybrid seeds.  

Open-pollinated seeds have been pollinated naturally using gravity (self-pollination), insects or wind.  A lot of care is taken to ensure that these plants get pollinated from the same variety of plants to ensure consistency. 

The greatest benefit to these seeds is, when pollinated properly, they will breed true.  This means their seeds will produce a plant of the exact same variety.  This matters if you intend on saving seeds, as you need to know that the genetics within the seeds will be the same as the parent. 

When buying open-pollinated seeds, make sure that they are from a reputable seed producer who will have taken steps to ensure that the plants from which the seeds were harvested did not get accidentally cross-pollinated.

Hybrid seeds result from the cross pollination of plants, which means that a plant was pollinated with pollen from a different plant variety.  This may have occurred naturally due to two differing varieties being close together, or in the case of seed companies, the plant will have been deliberately hybridized to obtain a desired combination of traits from different varieties. “F1 hybrid” means it’s the first generation of the cross-pollination.

The main benefit of F1 hybrid seeds is that they can combine optimal characteristics of each parent into one vegetable.  For example, where one variety of lettuce produces amazing tasting harvests and another variety is not prone to bolting, they may be cross-pollinated to achieve a good-tasting lettuce that can be grown throughout the hot summer months.  This is optimal if you need both traits.  As a downside, you can’t usually save seeds from plants grown with F1 hybrid seeds, as you don’t know what will emerge next year – the genetics within cross-pollinated varieties will revert one way or the other between the varieties.  You’ll therefore need to order again and again from the seed company rather than save the seeds yourself.

One thing to note is that both open-pollinated and F1 hybrid seeds can be either organic or non-organic – they are unrelated concepts.  Heirloom seeds will always be open-pollinated.

I prefer open-pollinated seeds because I am an avid seed saver, which saves me a lot of money each year.  I also like a lot of the valuable heirloom vegetables that are only available from open-pollinated seeds.  However, I sometimes use F1 hybrid seeds where I’m aiming for specific characteristics in plants – usually good-tasting vegetables that do not easily bolt and are resistant to powdery mildew and late blight.