If you have ever tried to grow generations of tomatoes from a store bought tomato you will know the answer to this question, they just don’t grow very well. Maybe good growth in the first generation, but consecutive generations do poorly. Genetics is an art as well as a science and breeding, whether it is with humans, animals or plants all have the same benefits and pitfalls.
If you go into Pick n Pay and Checkers and buy seeds they will probably all germinate. They will grow well and give good yields if you looked after your plants correctly. You are using the same seeds most farmers use, as a matter of fact – good germination high yield hybrids. But there is a problem – in most cases you cannot seed save. Large scale farmers don’t care – they just buy new seeds every year because they don’t have the time nor the inclination to save seed. Also, they may have grown two varieties of, for example, brassicas together and the plants cross pollinated. For example, they grew broccoli and cabbages together. Now these two plants are of the same type so they will cross pollinate with each other and produce a plant that is neither a good cabbage or a good broccoli.
So these high yield hybrid seeds that you find so predominant in most shops produce plants that grow well for one season but the plants that grow from the seeds they produce are often very poor specimens indeed. And you can see this with animals too. For example, my parents once had a Sharpei. If you don’t know what a Sharpei looks like, check out the blanket er, I mean dog on the right. Now this dog has been specially bred to look like that – over many many years the special gene that causes the skin to wrinkle like that has been preserved in the parent animals and passed on. But because of this very careful breeding, the health of the animal is quite fragile. A “pavement special” on the other hand, is a dog that nature produced the good old fashioned way and is genetically a very healthy animal. This is because the female will mate with a few different dogs, if they are around, and the strongest healthiest sperm will fertilize her eggs, resulting in the healthiest possible offspring. This is why inbreeding and incest among humans is so frowned upon – nature doesn’t like it because the genes are too similar and the offspring usually have more defects.
So using that understanding and applying it to plants it is very clear why heirloom seeds are so important and why gardeners and farmers should seed swap and seed save. Seed swapping helps to enlarge the gene variety so that nature can select the strongest genes for the offspring. Another very important benefit is that over time plants and their offspring become accustomed to the soil and weather conditions of the environment they grow in and in the long run they need much less water and nutrients to thrive.
There are so many benefits to organic heirloom seeds and more people should get educated about them so that we may improve the way we produce our food. The Ethical Suppliers online shop has a heirloom seed supplier and more suppliers and products will be added in future.