Does seed source matter?

sue_ct(z6 CT)February 18, 2014

I have noticed over the past few years since I started growing plants from seed, that the varieties that do well has changed in that short time. I found that Cherokee Purple, which had always done well for me, petered out and the plants got smaller and less robust and the fruit smaller. I was ready to stop growing it. Then, I tried the new CP Heart (different seed source) and suddenly had a visibly more healthy plant again and larger tomatoes, even though it was a terrible year. I almost gave up on Orange minsk but tried a new seed source, relegated it to a smart pot, and it did much better, if not outstanding.

My thoughts are these.
1. If I purchase seeds from a source that grows out their own, and it is in a zone a little closer to mine, will I be likely to get plants that do better for me?

2. If a seed source grows out their own, do they normally harvest seeds from all tomatoes they get regardless of size, or harvest from the best of the crop? If they find a variety is having a poor year for them, do most harvest and sell what they can get, or try to get seed elsewhere or drop it from the varieties offered until they get a good crop? Could that have an impact on the the quality and health of the plants grown from that seed? I have no real knowledge of the commercial seed business, so I have no idea.

What other factors should I maybe consider, if any, in determining where to buy my seeds? I would like to try to determine when to drop a plant because it simply doesn't do well in my garden or doesn't appeal to me and when it might be a factor of seed source.

Please note that I have not and am not identifying any one place that I have had problems with. I don't even know IF there is a relationship. I have used mostly well recommended seed sources from this forum and don't think anyone does anything to knowingly offer inferior seed.

I particularly interested if seed might being selected for zone and weather conditions that I can't duplicate. So, if sources were available in zone 9 or 10, and I am in zone 6, maybe the same plants would do better in my garden if I ordered them from a source that grows them in zone 7?

If a new variety is offered, does the growing out process for stabilization mean that only the best specimens are used for seed and maybe result in a more healthy vigorous plant than a variety that has been grown mainly for commercial seed production for a while?

Too many questions, lol?

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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Yes, lots of questions, perhaps toomany at one time, ahem, and I have lots of answers, but don't have the time right now.

Will be back when I do have the time. just letting you know I'm still alive. LOL


    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:24AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Plants, in general, do get adapted to their environment after some generations, naturally. They also learn how to cope with certain diseases over time. We often hear that this and that RUSSIAN tomato doe well or better in cooler climates.
On top this natural process of adaption, nowadays plant scientists can also DESIGN plants suitable for certain growing condition. Case in point : I am going to grow SILETZ and LEGENG, both bred by The Oregon State University, specifically for the PNW region.
So, to me, it is not just the SEED SOURCE but it is also seed variety.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:46AM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Thank you, Seysonn. I am trying to sort out when it it is likely variety and when it might be some of these other factors. I need to learn more about how the commercial seed business works, I think, to make it work best for me. Carolyn, so happy you are still around! Anything you have time to add would, of coarse, be appreciated. I have done a little research myself. For example, I have looked up the seed sources I have used in the past few years and found they are located in zones 6a, 7b, 8b, 9b and 10a. One, Tatiana, I have not found the zone for. I plan to go back and look at which places I may have ordered the seeds from that did not do well, but I am a little hesitant, because I don't want to draw false conclusions. I also have not kept a detailed record of the seed source and how the plants did, but since I haven't been growing from seed that long, there are probably only one or two sources for a particular seed so I can probably figure it out. I am going to take a look back and see if I can spot a pattern. I think I need to be careful because I don't want anyone to think if I haven't had plants from a particular source do really well, it is the fault of the seller. It might just be adaptation, as you mentioned, and they might be perfect for someone else. That is why I am not mentioning all the different sources. But if considering these factors will increase the likelihood of success, that would be great. I just haven't seen it discussed much here.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 12:25PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I can't speak for Carolyn but yes, it has been discussed here often in the past and as a result I know she has grown some thousands of varieties in her zone from almost as many different sources so I'm sure she will address that point.

I have grown hundreds of varieties in my zone over a 50 year span and find little to NO correlation between variety success and zone number/location. I can grow any variety I wish from any source I wish IF and WHEN I provide the proper growing conditions. When a variety does poorly it is because I don't know what I need to know or I haven't done my job as well as I should have.

Have I dropped varieties over the years? Sure. Primarily because I don't care for the flavor or I have found another variety that produces more fruit, larger fruit, better flavor, etc. But that's me, not the variety as others swear by it.

So bottom line - it is the "other factors" IMO, including me and my gardening shortcomings.

Is seed source one of those factors? Yes, but not because of their location. That isn't a factor for me. Just as there are those suppliers I trust, there are some I will not use because of their reputation for hyperbole, lack of reliability, inflated pricing, false advertising, quality of storage, mistaken varietal packaging, etc.

It is important to understand that most seed vendors get their seeds from someone else. They do not grow the fruit or collect the seeds themselves. Of late, more and more of those seeds are coming from overseas for various reasons. Further, many of them get their seeds from the same overseas source so ordering from company A vs. company B,C, or F still gets you the same seeds.

What is different is the care company A takes in monitoring their seed source, selecting their source and seeds, storing and packaging the seeds, and accurately representing their selections.



    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 1:13PM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Dave, the only reason I am looking at other variables is because varities that have done well for me perviously did not do well for several years, right beside varities that are flourishing. Unless they are lying, "most" of the seed sources I have been using claim to grow and farm most of thier own seeds, although not 100%. I am not really asking about varity here, although I know Brandywine is one that comes to mind in that respect. I really don't believe that one is totally dependent on the skill of gardener, but just IMO. So it is your feeling that seed source, domestic or imported, zone it it has been grown and harvested in, make no difference at all?
While I have seen possible reasons for a plant not doing well be discussed here a lot, the zone issue of different seed sources I have not, but maybe I just missed it. Actually, I have seen it mentioned that saving your own seed can actually help in this regard. Do you think that really isn't true after all? Or that it applies to saving your own seeds but not to commercial growers?

Anyway, I would not want to disparage any seed sources I have used, they are all well recommended in this forum.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 1:54PM
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One factor I would consider within any variety is that in certain regions of the country, mostly SE, soil borne diseases might determine wether a variety will do well or poorly. Dr. Randy Gardner once said that heirloom tomatoes just don't grow well in NC unless grown as grafted plants. To a lesser degree you might have pressure from any pest (insect, fungal, bacterial or viral) and it is difficult to determine in any given year when those pests will surface- I just write those off as bad years. Varieties with some resistance/tolerance to that pest may fair better under any year of a specific pressure. Up until a few years ago there were no Late Blight resistant varieties. Now I have plant buyers who want only those varieties.

The biggest complaint I have with certain tomato seed suppliers is the high percentage of totally unusual variety expectations. When I plant Cherokee Purple I don't expect a red cherry. Cost can vary tremendously as well. You just need to find a reputable supplier and give them your business.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 10:39PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

I tried cutting and pasting from both of your posts but when I highlight to do so it highlights the whole page, so all I could do was to write down a bit of what you asked, and go with that. And several folks have already said above what I'm going to say as well.

Seed source closer to home would your plants do better?


When a commercial source produces their own how do they do that in terms of how many plants, fruit sizes, etc?

No way to know at all. The expertise at different seed sites varies considerably from the much more experienced growers to those who have little background in what they are doing. And I know that for a fact scanning various newer seed sources. And I'm not talking abut the large places such as Stokes, Burpee and similar,

Seed companies acquire tomato seeds in one of three ways.

Grow own for seed production, for OP varieties
Sub contract out for seed production, for OP's
Buy seeds from one of several wholesalers, direct purchase for hybrids and OP's as well

How to select a seed source.Criteria to consider,

Purity of seed
Seed age
# of seeds/pack and price to compare between companies
Customer Service
What kind of info is given at a site about varieties, that is plant habit, leaf form, color and size of fruits. Roughly early, mid and late season, but forget about DTM's which are guesstimates.
How are the seeds sent.
Are pictures critical?NO, a person can go to Tania's site to check out a varietyfor pictrues,traits, seed sources, etc., and can also Google it as well.

You mention several times about seeds selected for weather, geographic area, etc. Weather is never constant anywhere regardless of geographic location. Gardening Zones, even within a single zone can also differ, so where seeds are produced doesn't matter either.

What you're talking about is adaptation, and while some would disagree with me I do not believe in local adaptation. When that's discussed the concept of landraces comes up and there have been some vigorous discussions about that, but I'm one, and not alone, who sees landraces as being developed that have adapted over time, that time being thousands of years, by subtle mutation and human selection. The two best examples are Ethiopian Wheat and many rice cultivars.

You ask about new varieties and stability. I'm not really following you there. Most commercial companies offer only varieties that are already stable, speaking of OP's, and the larger companies also offer F1 hybrids, which are stable when those F1 seeds are sowed. so don't know how to anser that question.

Summary? IMO it makes no darn difference where seeds are produced, geographically, whether in the US or otherwise. There's a huge number of smaller companies now, I'm speaking of the family owned and they vary considerably as to the criteria I mentioned above. Sue, I'm sure you were here at GW when I started those wrong variety threads each year which at that time clearly showed that some companies are MUCH better than others when considering the criteria I noted above, Many of those same better companies are still with us, thank heavens, and many newer companies are also doing a great job.

I know I probably forgot to address some of your items, so if you want to ask me again, that's fine with me.

I do think that you are overthinking the situation b'c I can have variety A do wonderfully in one year and the same variety, same seeds, do horribly the next year. Just too many variables at work and I've posted here about those variables many times, and no way to control most of them for an individual home grower since no two individuals grow their tomatoes in the exact same way.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:17AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

So it is your feeling that seed source, domestic or imported, zone it it has been grown and harvested in, make no difference at all?

As I said above, as long as it is a reputable seed source (and there are many dis-reputable) then no, it makes no difference at all where it was grown.

I agree with everything Carolyn posted.

Is saving seeds a benefit? Sure. So that you have lots of seeds and can control how they are sorted and stored properly. Because they were grown in your zone, your garden and supposedly improved as a result? No.

With the exception bmoser mentioned of seed borne diseases (good point), then IMO specific variety performance is determined by the genes inside the seed and the growing conditions provided by the gardener from the moment of planting the seed.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:17AM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Thanks to both of you, Carolyn and Dave, and yes Carolyn, I guess I was talking about local adaptation. I have seen it mentioned here a number of times and never actually saw anyone say it doesn't exist. So I guess I did assume it did exist. :)
When people save seeds I have seen instructions and advise that you should save seeds from your best tomato specimens for a particular variety and from each plant and that by doing so over time you end up with more vigorous plants and, larger tomatoes if that is what you are selecting for, and yes, those that are more adapted to your local conditions. So if that doesn't happen then I guess the rest of my questions are going to have the same answer. Taking seeds from the largest, best specimens from a particular plant has no advantage over taking them from the smallest. That it why I was asking if they select tomatoes they save from. If that doesn't happen, then it doesn't matter if they are taken from the largest, smallest, early season or late season tomatoes, as long as they are fully ripened and developed. All my questions were really about different types of adaptation and if taking seeds from "better" specimens had any advantage over taking them from "poorer" specimens, and if they carry any of these characteristics genetically into the seed and the new plant the following year. IF those differences are only environmental and each seed from a plant carries identical genetic material, then it shouldn't matter.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 5:40PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

There is genetic heterogeneity within a specific variety, although most folks don't see that.

So for saving seeds one should never save seeds from one fruit on a plant, always many more than one on a plant and also use all fruit sizes.

Better still is to save seeds from many fruits on two plants of a variety, etc.

The earliest of suggestions that I know of said to plant 8 plants of a variety in a row and save seeds only from fruits of the inner four. That's just not possible for home growers and IMO also begs the question of how close adjacent rows are.

It's all about preventing cross pollination and there's an excellent article about that and ways to do it, and why in THE FAQ's, link at the top of this first page.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 6:55PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

When people save seeds I have seen instructions and advise that you should save seeds from your best tomato specimens for a particular variety and from each plant and that by doing so over time you end up with more vigorous plants and, larger tomatoes .....

I believe it is a valid point; Genetics do change by the environment, nutrition, etc. It is true in the animal kingdom and plants kingdom as well. By continually picking and planting the best fruits, the best seeds, it is possible to see a dramatic improvement. That is an old age breeding method. This change and improvement is being registered in the genetic code. The overall growing environment also affects the genetics over time. That is called adaptation. Plants even learn to develop immune system against certain diseases and pests. That is how and why often NATIVE plants are preferred over the EXOTIC of the same variety in shrubs and trees.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:09PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)



With respect to tomatoes I'd like to suggest that we agree to disagree with most of what you wrote above.

Meaning that I'm the one who disagrees with most of what you posted but do not see it as being positive for me, or for you, for me to explain why I disagree b'c I'm positive that it would not be a particularly constructive discussion , from my point of view.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:25PM
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Genetics of a well maintained open-pollinated self-breeding crops, like tomatoes, change little in a given environment. This is because there is little heterogeniety within these populations compared to out-breeding crops (like corn). A properly maintained OP line will be mostly homogenous.

Changes to a self breeding crop come from intentional crossing, rare random mutations, outcrossing and selection pressure (mostly human) that select for those small variations (~large enough populations which pick up on any heterogeniety left in a population.

The fewer plants one is saving from a population the less likely one will be saving that heterogeniety (inherit genetic diversity), This is why seed collected of at least 10 plants, true to type, kept more than 10ft apart (100ft is better dependent on flower type/insect populations and other environment factors) should be kept to ensure that diversity is held. But saving diversity is a different issue. Here we are talking about keeping something reasonably uniform.

Conversely even with small populations, if one happens to select (inadverently) a plant(s) with heterogeniety and then saves that line, one can get drift (a change) from the original variety. That may have been what happened with the CP.

Hard to say exactly because one doesn't know how carefully they selected to maintain a variety.

If one works with a large enough population and is observant, differences even within a well grown variety can be noticed but as Carolyn mentioned some of the genetic differences may not be things "seen" and the change not readily noticeable. This just emphasizes why it is important to maintain lines with proper isolation distances, a large enough group of plants for a representative sample in case something odd does show up and generally selection by the same person(s). These factors contribute to why open-pollinated/"heirlooms" are not as static/stable as it is often believed they are.

SO depending on the amount of genetic heterogeniety, if tomato seed is grown out in a different region, over time, there could be some selection pressure shift for environmental adaptation. Most of it depends on the continuity of who and how the selection is done and again the amount of inherent genetic diversity was present within that population.

There is another wild card that might play a role if not influence what, in some instances, may effect perception as an environmental adaptation. This would be transposable elements, also called transposons.

These are parts of the DNA that can move around and/or change the phenotypic expression (how something looks) but they do not physically alter genes in of themselves.

I won't go into too much detail. I'll try to simplify this down in a way it may be better understood instead of those big words. (there is more to it than this but it helps get the "general" idea).

Think of the genetic material of an organism being a whole poem or song. The DNA being the details to the whole poem/song and genes would be the words or even in more complex situations sentences. DNA has a built in "reader/listener". As It reads (transcribes) segments of DNA, it is able to decode individual words/sentences it reads to say 'ah the DNA says this''. Transposons role may be thought of like influences to that reader of a poem or listener to a song,

So think of a Bob Dylan song. What one may listen or interrupt from a verse at one time may be different from what they interrupt at another. The words (genes) did not change but rather the way they were read/heard changed based upon the the current biases, personal experience and mindset (transposable elements) at that point in time.

So transponsons don't actually change the genes but rather they influence their expression (phenotype) based on their presence. What triggers transposons to "show up" can be trickier to access. They seem to be combinations of environmental events/exposures both immediate and influences from the generations past (epigenetic effects).

Back to the analogy, if one was drunk, stoned (environmental influence) and/or had learned experiences from their past including say parent/grandparents viewpoints that caused them to interrupt things different (epigenetic influences), that would be like the influence of the transposable elements understanding what the DNA meant relative to the way one might interrupt a song/poem different from same another reader or even a different time in their life (next season) that they hear it..

So in some cases of saving a seed population transposons might be influencing how something expresses in a given environment at a given point in time. Over time, it might be possible that such a difference could effect/skew selection IF there was enough heterogeniety present that may contribute to a shift (just as it did mentioned way above).

So what does all that mean?

1) If a self pollinating variety is adapted to your area anyway and if a seed source/grower is doing a proper job at maintaining and selecting the true to type form of that variety of tomato, it probably should not matter that much where the seed was sourced.

2) "Adapations", unless viewed in the wrong run, may not exactly be what people think they are.

What should I concern myself with from a tomato seed source?

Well there are more details like ethics, but in general:
does it germinate well?
is it true to type?
does it seem disease free?

Someone who knows what they are looking at and doing could adapt a self breeding crop for an environment. There would have to be some kind of inherent genetic diversity present to exploit. It would be best to work with larger populations to find something and it would take several years time to know what one is seeing is an actual change.

A person who speaks to this, and is doing this kind of thing with another self-breeding crop, is Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed. There are several youtubes of him speaking on these issue (to seeds in general not tomatoes alone) in a manner I think most can understand. If interested seek a video out.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 3:04PM
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'wrong run" is Engrish for "long run'

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 3:11PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

And "long run" is what you just did in your above post Keith.LOL

Excellent post.

I'll save this thread just for your post, or maybe I'll just cut and paste it to elsewhere.

Considering so much that you've included at your superb website, I wish that you'd consider writing a book, for the home grower mainly , because you write well, explaining many of the issues that have been dealt within this thread, as well as many more.

And yes, it was Keith who first clued me into the minor mutations that could occur such as differences in internode distances, as well as ways in which mutations could lead to, for instance, going from an RL leaf form, homozygous dominant, to heterozygous, still dominant
to homozygous recessive, then PL.

I knew of all the DNA mutations that could occur by looping out, repeats, inversions, etc, and knew them with viruses which I'd worked with, as well as some bacteria, but just never made the connection, never even thought about it when it came to tomato genes, Sigh,


    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 6:32PM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Thank you! What great responses and what a wonderful education I am getting! My genetics classes in college came flooding back. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. I have been known to "over think" things as Carolyn pointed out early on. But clearly I have been shown to be an amateur in this regard.Turned out to be one of my favorite threads. Thank you all for taking the time to educate me. :)

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 8:49PM
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