When it comes to pepper seeds (or any kind of seeds for that matter), you'll see the words heirloom, open pollinated or hybrid in the description. You're probably wondering what the heck these words mean.
It turns out these terms are pretty significant.
The type of seed will tell you:
- What to expect when you grow out your seeds
- Whether you can save your seeds to grow out next season
Generally, you can grow any non-GMO (genetically modified organism) pepper seed.
Different types of seeds will produce dramatically different results.
Here's a description of each seed type. This will help you determine your own preference when buying seeds.
Heirloom Pepper Seeds
An heirloom variety is typically seed that is at least 50 years old. It has a history of being passed down through generations -- it's a great way to preserve historical varieties.
Heirloom peppers are created naturally and not commercially. This type of seed is ideal for saving.
Heirlooms tend be more nutritious than other varieties. Many growers agree that they have a richer flavor too.
Some people don't like heirlooms because the harvest can be sporadic. The size of the fruit can be different on the same plant too.
Personally, I like being surprised so I try to grow heirlooms whenever I can!
Plants that are pollinated by natural means, such as birds or insects, are open pollinated (OP). This type of seed can also fall into the heirloom category, but not all OP seeds are heirlooms.
It's possible to grow a true-to-type pepper from an open-pollinated seed, but the chances for variation are greater.
If you want to retain the exact characteristics of an OP, isolate the seeds.
Hybrid varieties -- typically labeled as "F1" -- are developed by human intervention. Usually, it's to purposefully create a desirable trait such as higher yields or better disease resistance.
The Red Savina, for example, is a red habanero that was developed to produce larger, hotter and heavier fruit.
Hybrids are not stable enough for seed saving, which means you'll need to buy more seeds each year.
If you do try to save and grow hybrid seeds, they won't be true-to-type and they'll be a lot less vigorous.
Hybrids and GMOs (A Clarification)
Because hybrids tend to get mixed up with GMOs, here's some clarification...
They are not one in the same.
Genetically modified organisms are developed in a lab to have their DNA altered -- typically a deletion or insertion of a gene.
This process is not natural.
Hybrids, on the other hand, are developed over time by human hands using natural methods of cross-pollination.
Choosing The Best Hot Pepper Seeds For You
Hopefully, this post clears any confusion and you now have a better understanding of how heirloom, open pollinated or hybrid seeds operate.
Armed with information, you can now grow a garden that suits your needs and preferences.
And for those of you looking for complete, how-to steps on all indoor growing phases, from germinating your seeds to getting your seedlings to the point where they can safely go outside… Make sure to check out the updated and expanded Pepper Seed Starting Guide. I personally use this resource to start my abundant pepper garden each season, and I’m always here to answer questions!