Here are a few seed ordering tips that have grown out of the Almanac’s garden trials at “Alkali Acres,” our testing ground in Boise.
Look for “open-pollinated” versus hybrid varieties. If  the word “hybrid” does not appear in the name or description then the plant is a variety that was pollinated only from other plants of its own variety, also called “open-pollinated.” Hybrids are an intentional cross of two varieties. They are not the“genetically modified” plants that some people are concerned about.
The main disadvantage of hybrids is that seeds saved from mature hybrid plants will likely grow to produce less desirable plants than the parents. Open pollinated varieties will produce the same type of plant for many generations from seed that you collect as long as the variety is grown some distance away from other varieties of the same vegetable. It is easy—too easy in fact—to create your own hybrids in the garden without knowing you are doing it. This writer planted birdhouse gourds too close to a patch of winter squash and ended up with  squash that had seeds scattered through the flesh.
People are intrigued by “heirloom” varieties of vegetables that may be centuries old. These are fun to plant, though the resulting vegetables often have some drawbacks compared with modern varieties. Last year’s test of heirloom tomatoes at Alkali Acres proved again the gardener’s old rule: buy seed from respected companies. The seed for the tomato trial came from an outfit with perhaps more enthusiasm than ability. The resulting tomatoes were not true to their description, indicating that some unwanted crossing of varieties had occurred when the seed was being grown.

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