Wednesday, November 5, 2014

General update and 'can you plant seeds from hybrids?'

A couple of nights ago we had an unexpected frost which killed all of my pumpkins and much of the zucchini and some melons. Luckily everything that I had under row covers weren't touched. At least that answers the question of whether the covers are useful against frost.

Since there is another frost forecast for tonight I will wait till tomorrow to replant the seeds. At least with our long growing season I still have plenty of time to get them growing again, but it is a bother.

 Just as a matter of curiosity, I planted 5 cloves of garlic upside down, and another 5 sideways to see if they grow.

I am pleased to announce that they still grow and form good bulbs.
As they grew they tipped themselves sideways which meant that they grew close to the surface, and looked a bit odd but they performed better than I expected.
In the top pic you can see the bulb some distance from the top growth as the stem grows in a U shape.

This means that if I get my large block planted next year I will be able to make holes for them and just drop them in without having to make sure all the cloves are the right way up. This will save a lot of time and effort, as well as my knees.

Can you plant seeds from hybrids?

All over the internet and in books and forums everyone is warned that you cannot plant seeds from hybrid vegetables. Why?

Of course you can. Apart from some hybrids that have pollen sterility like hybrid carrots and brassicas (these are bred not to produce pollen so they won't produce seed) you can let hybrid vegetables go to seed and save the seeds. Just so you know, if a seed packet has F1 next to the name it is a hybrid.

In some cases the seedlings from your saved seed will not look entirely like the parents, but do you need them to? Take 'Zephyr' zucchini for example. It is a hybrid that has two different looking parents so if you save the seed from a Zephyr zucchini you may get plants with many fruit colours and shapes but they will still all taste like zucchini.
I actually have a breeding project going at the moment to de-hybridise 'Zephyr' so I can offer open pollinated seeds to my customers which will breed true.

Or some seeds saved from hybrids will look exactly like their parents. If you grow a hybrid butternut pumpkin you will get seed that will grow butternut pumpkins. In this case the hybrid is the result of two different lines of butternuts, one parent might be resistant to a certain disease and the other a variety/line that has a certain growth pattern, but they are still both butternut pumpkins.

Really, the only people who need true variety seeds/plants are commercial growers who need to be sure that what they are growing will grow, flower and ripen at exactly the same time for harvest. If they had seeds from hybrid plants the genetic variety would mean that the plants would not be exactly the same which would cause harvesting problems.

Saving seeds from hybrids does not mean that what you grow will be inferior. Take apples for another example, there are heaps of seedling trees on the sides of the roads that have great fruit. They might not be the same as the next tree on the road but that does not mean they are all inferior. Some are but most of the roadside apples I have tasted have been the sort of fruit trees that I would happily have in my garden.

To sum up, it is fine to grow varieties that come true from seed but it is not necessarily bad to grow hybrid seed, it will usually be just as good as the parents, even if it doesn't always look or taste exactly the same.

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