Confused about the difference between heirlooms and hybrids? And just what is a GMO?? If some of these terms are as clear as mud, this list of basic gardening terms will help.
Heirloom: a variety of plant with a history of being passes down through generations. An heirloom is open-pollinated (it will produce true to type seeds); but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. It’s loosely agreed that heirloom varieties are at least 50 years old or more.
Open-Pollinated: refers to plants with seeds that will “breed true.” When the plants of an open-pollinated variety self-pollinate, or are pollinated by another representative of the same variety (via insects, birds, wind, or human), the resulting seeds will produce true-to-type seeds and plants/fruit roughly identical to the parent plant.
Hybrid: Is the cross-pollination between two different plant varieties to achieve the best attributes of both. Hybrid varieties are produced by seed companies and may take years to develop. They are primarily proprietary to the seed company, and may not always be available. Hybrids were developed to meet various consumer needs – disease resistance, early production and storage/shipping qualities are a few examples. Some common hybrid tomato varieties include Big Boy and Early Girl, as well as the famously sweet, Sun Gold cherry tomato. Most importantly, seeds saved from hybrid plants will not produce true-to-type seed.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO): Genes from one species are artificially implanted in to the DNA of another species, which contain combined genetics that would not exist in nature. Corn and Soybeans are the two most genetically modified vegetables. GMO seeds are rarely available for purchase to consumers.
Open-Pollinated/Heirloom vs Hybrid: OP plants will produce true-to-type seeds; hybrids will not.
Hybrids vs GMO: Hybrids are produced through cross-pollination. GMO’s are genetically modified and would not occur naturally.
Variety: Naturally occurring selections within a species. The term variety is often interchanged with cultivar. For example, tomato varieties include beefsteak (large) and cherry (small).
Cultivar: Selections resulting from human intervention. Within each variety are several cultivars. The beefsteak variety of tomato has many cultivars, such as Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, etc. Cherry tomato cultivars include Mexico Midget or Black Cherry.
Organic Seed: Seed saved from plants that were grown under certified organic practices. Must have the Certified Organic seal to be marketed as organic seed.
Annual: A plant that completes it life cycle in one season. It will germinate, flower, produce fruit/seeds and die in one season. Most vegetables are annual plants.
Biennial: A plant that takes two years to produce fruit or seeds. Carrots and parsley examples of biennial plants.
Perennial: Plant lives for more than two years. Examples in the vegetable garden include asparagus, chives, oregano, and raspberries.
Just a few terms to help in understanding the descriptions given for tomatoes.
Tomato Season: Early = 60-70 days Mid = 70-80 days Late = 80-90 days Very Late = 90+ days
Sizes: Very Small = less than 1 oz Small = 1-3 oz Medium = 4-9 oz Large = 10-16 oz Very Large = 1-2 lbs or more
Growth Habit: Indeterminate means that the plant continues to grow after fruit set, and fruit is harvested over a long period of time. Tomatoes in all stages of development may be on the plant at the same time. Determinate means that the plant does not continue to grow once fruit has set. Harvest time is shorter as all the fruit develops at the same time. This is good for those who want to process fruit, and want it all ready at the same time.
More terms can be found on this CdA Coop blog post: A Glossary to Seed Starting