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Hybridization

A PHENOMENON THAT FEEDS US WELL

Everyone who has a reasonable income will likely agree with this statement: "Food prices in North America are a bargain." Especially in the case of vegetables, hybrids have played a very important role in ensuring adequate food supplies that are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and affordable.

About six decades ago, hybrid corn was introduced and was a huge success. Since then, one by one, most of the popular vegetable classes have succumbed to hybridization magic with almost unbelievable success.

In the beginning, hybrid vegetable varieties were considered interesting and useful novelties, but were thought to be for home gardeners only. Agricultural "experts" assumed that the labor costs to cross-pollinate vegetable inbreds by hand would make hybrid seed uneconomical for commercial growers and large-scale production. They knew hybrids were better, but thought the cost to produce the seed outweighed the improvements.

While it has taken many years to do so, plant breeders have proven that hybrid benefits are worth the extra seed cost, whether used for small or large-scale farming. Hybrids can result in new disease resistances, earlier maturity, more vigorous plants, better quality vegetables, improved uniformity, superior flavor arid yield increases ranging from 30% to 100 % when compared to their open pollinated counterparts.

It has fascinated me to observe two unimpressive inbreds that appear to be runts, then see what happens when they are combined to make a hybrid. You wouldn't give 15 cents for either inbred as a variety to be planted alone, but the result of taking pollen from one flower (male parent) and transferring it to the other flower (female parent) can only be described as a miracle. Seed saved from the cross-pollinated female fruit or plant is F1 hybrid seed, and when the right inbreds are combined, the hybrid can explode with unimaginable improvements.

Hybrid seed is saved from a mature fruit resulting from a plant flower that has been cross-pollinated by an unrelated plant flower of the same species or group. This is most often done by hand as a deliberate act. Being a first generation cross, it is called an F1 hybrid. The F1 seed produces all kinds of improvements you wouldn't expect after observing the parent lines. Plant scientists call it "heterosis." I don't understand it, but take my word, it's magic.

If you save seed from a fruit or plant that you've grown from F1 hybrid seed, it is called F2 (second generation) and is no longer a hybrid according to the laws governing seed marketers. F2 seed will normally have lost the F1 vigor you observed when true hybrid seed was planted the first time. Worse yet, it will begin segregating, reverting back to some undesirable characteristics that may be part of the genetic makeup of one or both of the parents. Remember that the parents are probably inbred runts that are worthless as stand-alone varieties. But when crossed, the F1 hybrid plants are usually so uniform, nearly every one produces fruits that are virtually identical. In the F2 generation, a natural "bursting up" or 'break-up" begins to occur. No longer are the plants and fruits grown from the F2 seeds the same as the hybrid, or necessarily desirable. No longer can you be sure of fruit quality, disease resistance, plant vigor, good yields, uniformity, and predictable maturity.

The lesson you'll learn when you save and replant seeds from F1 hybrid plants/fruits is a tough pill to swallow. It may be tempting, but don't do it unless you have a year of time and effort to waste

If you want the ultimate vegetable gardening experience, plant hybrid seeds when available. They can play a major role in providing the food, fun, satisfaction, exercise, piece of mind, and nutrition you need for you and your family.

By Jim Waltrip

Reprinted with permission.

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More on Hybrids - List of Hybrid Seeds

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