I read the debate from time to time. F1 seed is usually expensive, or comes in small packets, or both. The F1 All-Female Cucumber seeds I buy, “Bella”, were £4.99 for 4 seeds in 2013 – the most recent “stock” that I have!. But I buy the seed in the 50p-a-packet sale at my local The Garden Centre Group outlet, which has held this fire-sale for the last umpteen years, which makes F1 seed affordable (small packet size apart)
Most vegetable seed (with the exception of Parsnips, and perhaps a few others) has viability for several years; that can be maximised by keeping the seed in a sealed waterproof box, Tupperware or similar, in the fridge (but not in contact with the freezing part).
So what variety seed should I buy? Of course buying in the end of season sale the choice can be limited, so I buy enough seed for at least 2 seasons ahead when a variety I want is available. I guess I am getting old, but in general I avoid things that are being hyped by Marketing Departments as The Latest Brand New Thing … a few years later it is often hard to find that variety anymore, so either the newer ones really are better, or it was just bred as a fad.
Having said that, fellow gardeners argue with me that the Latest F1 Wonderplant is the result of careful breeding, and as such the blood-lines are true and carefully maintained; but in a few years the job will have been subcontracted out to a less conscientious supplier and the quality will fall; so on that basis one should only buy the Latest Brand New Thing as in the short term they will be excellent and consistent; I can see merit in that argument, but I prefer to grow a variety that I know we like to eat and it is relatively rare that a new variety that we trial, alongside a family favourite, is adopted long term. I’m very shy of experimenting where failure is a possible outcome, so I don’t gamble on growing to like what I have grown to eat. Many folk are quite happy to experiment even when the odds are long.
I grow for best flavour, that’s it.
Some people will no doubt grow for Yield, but if I can’t improve on supermarket taste I’m not interested in growing it; I do have a secondary consideration of wanting to know the provenance of my vegetables, but it is so long since I last put any chemical on a vegetable crop that I now kinda take that for granted, all it does is to turn me off buying vegetables in the supermarket as I have no idea what chemicals might have been used on them.
Because I aim to buy all / nearly all the seed I need in the end of season sales I don’t attempt to save my own seed, but if I did then I would have to avoid F1 varieties. F1 varieties don’t come true from seed that you save, so for anyone wanting to save seed then sticking to heirloom / so called “open pollinated” varieties is best. If that is for you then have a look at Real Seeds www.realseeds.co.uk, they provide advice on how to save, store and sow seed – its an interesting business model to plan to only ever sell you seed once!
Some F1 seed is bred for the benefit of commercial growers. They can be focused on things like the whole crop maturing all at once – so they can harvest it mechanically / cost effectively. That can be a downside to the home grower who wants to spread the harvest over several weeks.
So I am back to Flavour First; F1 varieties can give me bigger fruit, and more of it, starting cropping when the plants are younger (a good example would be F1 Sweet Peppers), compared to open-pollinated / heirloom varieties and maybe even better flavour. Other key benefits would be disease resistance but I personally don’t bother much with that, as a criteria, as it usually comes at a compromise on flavour – Blight resistant potatoes have been a disappointment taste-wise, although they are gradually improving [and taste is a personal and subjective thing, so my view and yours are likely to be different) – but for folk with plots infected with Clubroot then F1 varieties bred for the purpose can guarantee a crop where otherwise disease would mean it was pointless growing them at all.
So my suggestion would be to choose the varieties you want for flavour, suitable plants for the space and growing conditions you have. Establish a Base Line variety that you like, and then also grow some additional varieties, space permitting, of the “latest best thing” or “the one your mate said was amazing” and perhaps over time you will adopt a few of those. Of the trial varieties we grow each year very few ever replace the family’s favourites.