You may have noticed that many seed varieties are described as ‘F1’. But have you ever wondered what that means? F1 is short for first generation hybrid and are varieties that have been produced to have certain desirable traits. Many of the larger seed companies are focusing increasingly more of their efforts on their F1 varieties. If you keep a few years of seed catalogues you will start to notice how many more of these hybrid varieties are hitting the shelves each year. Does it matter whether you choose F1 or not? There are many pros and cons to these hybrid seeds which are definitely worth knowing.
Disease resistance. Many varieties are produced to be far less susceptible to disease than their non-hybrid counterparts. This can be great if you have diseases present in your soil such as clubroot or have concerns about blight affecting your outdoor tomatoes.
Easy to grow. F1 hybrids tend to be much more reliable and easier to grow. This means that they can be great for beginners in particular, because you are far less likely to give up if you manage to get a decent crop early on.
Uniformity. F1 seeds are much more likely to grow at the same speed and to the same size as one another if grown in the same conditions. They are much more reliable if you wish to produce perfect looking veg.
Expensive. One reason why large seed companies focus on F1 seeds is that they are far more profitable. Because they are often easy to grow and more resistant to disease, they are much more marketable. If you compare the price per F1 seed to the price per non-hybrid seed, you will notice they are much more expensive.
You cannot save seed. Unfortunately if you tried saving seeds from hybrid plants they will not grow true to the original. This means that if you want to grow plants with the same desirable traits, you cannot save your own seed and you will have to keep buying them every year.
Flavour. Most hybrid varieties are bred for disease resistance, reliability, uniformity and storage abilities. Flavour is rarely a priority. Heritage varieties often have more flavour.
Open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties are not being maintained. Because F1 seeds are more profitable, larger companies are focusing their efforts on producing them. Non-hybrid varieties produce lower profit meaning they put much less effort into maintaining them. Many non-hybrid varieties have lost their desirable traits over the years because they haven’t been bred very well to maintain these traits.
Biodiversity. Did you know that 94% of seed diversity has been lost in the last century? That’s a huge amount. This is largely due to large scale industrial farming and fewer people growing their own. Unfortunately F1 varieties continue to push more non-hybrid varieties out. Maintaining seed diversity is essential for protecting our future food security and also increasing biodiversity.
Should you grow F1?
As you can see there are many pros and cons to hybrid seed varieties. I believe whether you should grow them depends entirely on your circumstances and beliefs. If you’re new to gardening, you may find F1 varieties useful until you gain more experience. You may also be more experienced but struggle to grow certain vegetables and only succeed with hybrids. If there are certain diseases present in your soil, you may find some F1 varieties that are more resistant than their non-hybrid counterparts.
However, if you are on a tighter budget or you are concerned about seed diversity and monocropping, it is probably a better choice to avoid hybrid varieties as much as possible. If seed diversity is a major concern for you, search for heritage varieties as much as possible. Companies who focus on heritage seeds are generally much better at maintaining their varieties over the years. Unfortunately because they are often smaller companies, seeds can be quite expensive, but you can save the seeds saving you money in future years. Furthermore, over time home saved seeds will adapt better to your growing conditions.
Growing hybrid varieties in an organic way is almost always going to be more sustainable than buying your produce. Many of the vegetables you buy in supermarkets are likely to be hybrids because it gives the farmer more certainty with their crops. While I will try to grow open-pollinated varieties as much as possible from now on, I definitely won’t entirely shut the door on F1. If I find I struggle to grow certain crops due to diseases present at my allotment or any other reason, then too right I will turn to hybrid varieties. I would much rather have something homegrown than have to buy it.
Where to buy heritage varieties
I thought it would be a good idea to finish this post by pointing you in the right direction of a few companies who focus their efforts on heritage varieties. Real Seeds is a fantastic company doing work to bring back heritage seeds. The Seed Co-operative and Vital Seeds are also great sources. I also love my subscription to the Heritage Seed Library, which is a charity working to bring back near-extinct heritage varieties. As part of your subscription, you get to choose 6 varieties of rare seed each year. Please note, all of my suggestions are UK based but there are great companies in other countries so it is worth doing your research if you live elsewhere.