Improving Heirloom Varieties

Seed company Burpee improves heirloom varieties by selecting breed superior heirloom strains.
By Barbara Pleasant
April/May 2006
Add to My MSN

‘Red Lightning’ looks like its parent variety, ‘Red Zebra,’ but it is far more resistant to soilborne diseases.
PHOTO: W. ATLEE BURPEE & CO.


Content Tools

Related Content

Are Heirloom Varieties the Only Ones from Which Seeds Can Be Saved to Produce Another Plant?

Many gardeners save seeds from their plants for use the following year, but this technique doesn't w...

Seed Catalogs: Waiting for Winter to End

Sorting through seed catalogs is one of the most entertaining tasks we have here at MOTHER EARTH NEW...

Earth Gauge Tip of the Week - Lightning Safety Awareness Week - When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

Over 100,000 thunderstorms occur each year in the U.S. Stay safe during Lightning Safety Awareness W...

Lightning Advice: Protect Your Home From Danger

Helpful advice on the dangers of lightning and how to protect your home from its damaging effects.

Most gardeners are familiar with hybrid vegetable varieties, which have been bred to produce superior plants with desirable traits, such as uniformity, early fruiting or resistance to disease. One drawback of buying hybrid plants, though, is that in most cases you can’t save their seeds for replanting. Many gardeners turn instead to open-pollinated heirloom varieties, which produce seeds that can be saved from year to year. So the phrase “hybrid heirlooms” may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s the best way to describe ‘Red Lightning’ and ‘Black Pearl’ — two new tomato varieties from Burpee.

‘Red Lightning’ (see photo in Image Gallery) boasts the yellow stripes of its parent variety, ‘Red Zebra,’ and fruity-flavored ‘Black Pearl’ looks like its chocolate-tinted parent, ‘Black Cherry.’ But the major benefits of these new heirloom varieties — strong resistance to Fusarium and Verticillium wilt diseases — are worth the hybrid trade-off to gardeners who have tried to grow heirloom tomatoes, but were foiled by these widespread and persistent soilborne diseases.

Burpee’s interest in heirloom plants dates back to 1876, when founder W. Atlee Burpee collected hundreds of variety samples from his customers. The current Burpee president, George Ball Jr., is fascinated by heirlooms, too, especially those originally bred by Burpee. A few years ago, Ball located a New Jersey farmer growing a lima bean once known as ‘Burpee’s Big 6-Pole Lima’ — a remarkably large-podded variety bearing nickel-size beans that have the taste and texture of baby limas. After several seasons of quality selection at the company’s Fordhook Farm in Pennsylvania, this vigorous variety has been re-released this year as ‘Big Mama.’

Burpee horticulturalist Tracy Lee says the company will continue to select and breed superior heirloom strains, which often do not require hybridization. For example, starting with the hollow-hearted ‘Yellow Stuffer’ bell pepper, Burpee has spent five years selecting the best plants for uniformity, high yield and a more distinct shape. Renamed ‘Yellow Magic,’ this improved open-pollinated version is now offered alongside the new hybrid heirlooms.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .








Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.