As the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for". But do you really? Is it always as advertised? Not likely, at least not always. There are many things that are not exactly as they appear or are advertised, and in many cases (unless we are very observant and read the labels carefully) we may not even know that we paid for something we didn't get. It happens all the time with food labels, phone service, clothing and at least a bazillion other things that don't come so readily to mind. But what about things more simple and straightforward, like garden plants?
Have you ever bought a tomato plant and found that it was really a pepper plant instead? Me nither, but they look enough different that it would be hard to mistake one for the other. What about one variety of tomato or pepper that turned out to be another? This is something that could happen often and in most cases, most people would not be sure of the mistake.
Look carefully at the photos. You will notice that the tomato is small and red, some variety of cherry tomato to be more precise. Anna purchased this plant which was clearly labeled as a "Lemon Boy", and had a nice picture of medium yellow tomatoes on the vine. The tomatoes it is producing are certainly not "Lemon Boy", or anything close. The pepper plant is one I bought. You might think it is a bell pepper, judging from the shape of the peppers. In reality, the peppers are smaller than bell peppers and, though still green, they are obviously hot. They appear to be a variety called "Cajun Bell", but whatever they are, they are absolutely not the "Cayenne" that they were clearly labeled to be, complete with pictures of beautiful "Cayenne" peppers.
If the tomato had been a different yellow variety than the one labeled, would we have known? If the pepper had been similar to what was expected, would we have made the connection? The answer is, probably not. While surprises can sometimes be good, this disturbs me. Not only because the varieties are different than advertised (in fact, I feel it is always good to try different varieties) but more because of how such little "mistakes" could be used.
Now to my main point. It is no secret that the seed companies (among other entities) are always pushing their hybrid seeds, and would like nothing more than for the open pollinated, heirloom varieties to disappear. It is also no secret that they are constantly developing genetically modified varieties and trying to push them on the consumer. My question is simple. At some point, how much trouble would it be to simply substitute a hybrid or genetically modified variety with similar characteristics to the one you think you are purchasing? The frightening answer is that it would be quite easy to do, very hard to prove and a big chunk of the population would not know the difference for at least a year, and only then, if they saved seeds and planted them the next spring. This would solve the seed company problem and our problems would begin in earnest. The really scary part is that if someone like me could think of it, we can't expect that they haven't thought of it too.
I don't think of myself as paranoid, and I am certainly not trying to say that anyone is "out to get us". The fact is simply that they are looking at the bottom line and if we save our own seeds, they can't sell theirs to us. This gives me more incentive to grow heirloom varieties and save seeds. I strongly encourage everyone else to do the same, if for no reason other than keeping the old varieties that our grandparents and great grandparents grew, from being lost forever. Once you have saved those seeds, I encourage everyone to in some way, share them with others, whether it be giving a few to the neighbor down the road, swapping those you have for those you want, or selling your surplus to those who are having trouble finding them.
If you have purchased plants or seeds that are not what you expected, have fun with the surprise and we would love to hear the stories. If you have heirloom varieties, we would also love to hear about the ones you enjoy.