One thing you will often hear us talk about is the "variety" of a seed or plant that we use. Common names are just that, names we use to discuss a plant such as Calendula or Lavender. But what about 'Resina' Calendula, medicinal calendula seeds, or 'Grosso' Lavender? And why are there so many varieties? Why don’t they have one standard lavender? And one type of Calendula? The beauty of so many varieties is to promote diversity, we as humans have been selecting vegetables, flowers, and roots for ages.
Plants themselves adapted on their own given their bioregion. Variety is, after all, the spice of life (Wakka Wakka). When we select our varieties we are looking for very specific traits such as essential oil content, medicinal potency, or fragrance and then we ask, how do these seeds hold up in our region? Will it tolerate frost? Will it need to be replanted annually (annual) or perennially (multi-year) in our region? This process of selecting varietals is done every year by growers, some sticking with tried and true, others trialing the latest and greatest. But why so many different types? Well, lets get to the bottom of that!
Every year all across the country seed companies publish their seed catalogs and send them out so we have something to oogle at during the winter (well kind of). They have the latest lettuce, squash, and peppers in every size, color, and shape imaginable. Each region has its own set of environmental factors to deal with such as temperature, rainfall, water salinity, disease or insect pressure and that has informed what and how we grow, where! Rainbow chard doesn’t grow in the wild! However, careful selection by plant breeders and savers have created an abundance of plants for us to choose from. Some make great landscape plants, others make beautiful cut flowers, and many give us unique colors, shapes, and flavors to experience.
Growing in Southern California we like to start with potency and then move onto the next obvious questions: are they drought tolerant and heat tolerant? If they pass the test, we are interested! The next step is finding out our USDA growing zone here. This information gives us a really solid foundation for success as many seed companies will list growing zones. From here though, there are other considerations such as the type of seed we may want to grow such as heirloom or hybrid.
So what do Heirloom and Hybrid mean? Is there a difference? This is actually easier to answer than you may think.
Heirlooms: While there is no standard definition for heirloom seeds they generally tend to be 70 years or older and are open pollenated meaning they may cross with other similar vegetables. This is great because it makes each plant unique with a plethora of genetic material stored in each seed creating a resilient plant. Generally, heirlooms are stable but may throw some fun plants out here and there. Common heirlooms we encounter are tomatoes, many of which are known by their gnarled and unique shapes. When we think of heirlooms we think of the seeds our Grandparents or Great-Grandparents used, the seed they saved! They selected for flavor, size, and disease resistance just like modern day seed savers and plant breeders! A great repository for heirloom seeds is the Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seed Search, both of which engage in the preservation of unique and diverse heirloom seeds to enjoy.
Hybrids: Are selected plants that have very specific parents, resulting in the seed of the hybrid. In this instance the seed saved by the seed breeder is very specific about what is pollenated and by what, this is wholly different than open pollenated heirlooms. The seed saved from this specific union is a hybrid, often chosen for what we like to call “hybrid vigor”. Hybrids are given the designation of F1. Seeds saved from this F1 are not the same as those purchased! Meaning the plant will begin to express its parents genetics as well as any others it has been exposed to and many possible outcomes may be expressed. To reiterate, a hybrid is seed saved after a specific union of pollination between two specific parents in a lineage, any seed saved from a hybrid will not be the same.
Hopefully these descriptions help you understand what we mean by varietal selections. We have selected for you some of the best herb seed varieties we have worked with in our store! Plant Good Seeds provide great quality seeds and plants that we love to work with, even using many of the varieties in our own fields. We hope you enjoy the selection!
So, are some seeds better than others? Well, that depends, we suggest going with a reputable seed company that does direct sales, seed companies found in nurseries and big box stores all over the country may not always give you the best results and the seed may be stale and old. Direct sales seed companies rely on providing you the best experience and quality, they also know the most about what they are selling. The added bonus is you may be able to find bioregional seeds! These are seeds grown right in your area of the world, or in similar conditions, which gives you a head start in your success! Don’t be afraid to try seeds meant for other places, you may be pleasantly surprised by how well they do in your area, or if your crop struggles you can save the seed from the plants that did the best and give them a go next year, eventually you will have your own bioregional adapted seeds to plant. To skip this long process try finding varieties best suited to your area.
Now that you are seed literate, we hope you enjoy our other features to come as we explore many of the different plants we grow and their varieties!