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Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, reading a veggie seed catalog is exciting -- especially this time of year when the wind howls and the snow flies. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of veggies to grow and at least as many ways to grow them. Seed catalogs are an invaluable resource. But sometimes the terminology can get confusing. Let’s take a look at some of the terms you'll more than likely come across in your readings.

Heirlooms

Heirlooms can be veggies, fruits, roses and just about any other plant that has maintained its genetic purity and has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one gardener to another. Not all heirloom cultivars were developed by gardeners. Some were developed by seed companies using classic breeding techniques. There are many schools of thought about how old a cultivar can be to be considered an heirloom. Some use the year 1945 as the latest a veggie can be considered for heirloom status. Others say any time before 1951. The point being, it was during these transitional years that seed companies were busy hybridizing plants and offering hybridized seeds to the gardening public. All heirloom plants must reproduce through open pollination.

Open pollination

Open pollination is another term for self-pollination and reproduction. Pollen is produced by the male organs of the plant and are transferred to female organs of the same plant via insects, birds and the wind. The seeds generated through this process keep their genetic purity intact. This is why heirloom veggies can be passed on year after year and the gardener can expect the same results.

F1

This is a classic breeding term to describe hybridized seed. Essentially F1 hybrids are developed by deliberately taking the pollen from the male parts of one pure inbreed plant and transferring it to female parts of a different pure inbreed plant. The goal is to produce a plant that is superior to either parent, whether through increased yields, disease resistance, or any number of other criteria. Seeds collected from F1 hybrids will not be true to form if planted in subsequent years.

Days to maturity

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This is a tricky term, as it only provides you a guide under ideal conditions when the plant will be ready to set fruit. Rarely have I seen ideal growing conditions in Wyoming! There is no standard time to begin the count. Some gardeners start it after the seed germinates, while others begin when the first true leaves appear on the plant. For transplants like tomatoes grown at the nursery or ones grown inside your home, begin the count when you transfer the plant into the garden. Be wary of growing veggies with a ‘days to maturity’ of 100 or more – you may not get a crop at all unless you cover your plants when the first frosts of autumn arrive.

Grafted veggies

This is all the rage in the gardening world. Grafting is taking one plant and literally grafting it to another's root stock. For years, this has been a common procedure in growing fruit trees to enhance fruit production. But now, and most notably with tomato plants, growers are grafting superior fruit producing tomatoes to the hardy and superior root systems of other tomato plants. This combination can result in up to a four times increase in the harvest potential for each grafted plant.

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Tom Heald is managing partner of the Wyoming Plant Company. Contact him at www.wyomingplantcompany.com.

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