Spring is finally here! If you’re a gardener at heart you probably can’t wait to get your hands into some dirt and wait expectantly for those little sprouts to start poking through the soil. As you’re thumbing through the seed catalog or the garden aisle at the store you may see different names on the seed packets that could cause some confusion. If you’re like me you want to go with the seed that is the best for your family and as sustainable as possible so I thought I would break down some of the major differences in the common types of seeds.
Heirloom seeds are probably my favorite type of seed. Heirlooms are documented as being passed down for generations and the produce will usually be very close to the same as it was many years ago. A lot of times there are records kept about the particular variety and how long the seed has been passed down. These can be handed down within communities or within families for generations and are readily available in stores and catalogs. They are not tampered with as far as crossing the plant with another for the purpose of changing it in any way other then what would occur in nature. They are typically a very diverse plant and can easily be saved for the next year to continue to grow the same variety year after year. I like this because of the sustainability of the seed and the economical aspect to not have to continually purchase seeds every year. Also, if you have a particular variety that does very well in your soil and region one year by saving the seeds it will give you a greater chance of having a good growing season the following year as long as the weather cooperates! It can be difficult to try to remember from year to year what variety did so well from the season before to try to locate the seeds for the new growing season in the store sometimes.
Organic seeds are just simply seeds that are derived from parent plants that are grown in an organic environment. These are not necessarily heirlooms but it is more about the environment the plant is grown into as far as not allowing any sort of pesticides, herbicides or other chemical measures in or around the soil or on the plant itself. GMO’s must not be included in any sort of seed or food that is certified organic. To learn more about what a grower must do to become certified you can go here for further info.
Hybrid seeds are very common today and make up a large portion of the seeds you find in the store. Certain varieties of plants can be susceptible to disease or intolerant to certain soils or weather conditions. With hybridized seed they will take a plant that has a certain characteristic such as being immune to a certain disease or grows well in a dry climate and cross pollinate it with another plant that is a part of the same family which may be more susceptible to the disease or condition. This is essentially attempting to breed the negative characteristic out of the susceptible plant. This has to be done in a controlled environment. While they do have some benefits for sure, if you like to save seeds for the next year the seeds will not produce as “true” as the initial seed. If they do produce they wont be as vigorous as the parent plant so you will still need to purchase seeds over and over again if you are using hybrid seeds. These seeds are not the same as GMO seeds. I’ve used hybridized seeds in my garden but do like to save my seeds so I try to stick to heirlooms.
So what are GMO seeds that we hear so much about these days? GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. These seeds are manipulated by science but in a much more complex way then a hybridized seed would be manipulated. Rather then crossing the plant with another plant in the same family scientists cross the plant with an organism in an entirely different biological kingdom. For instance, by crossing a bacteria and a plant you can essentially create a plant that contains a pesticide like substance within it’s DNA. An example of this is Monsanto crossing the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis known as Bt with corn creating Bt corn that is supposed to kill certain insects that consume the corn. The corn actually contains insecticidal toxins within it’s very cell make up. Due to the nature of this toxin present in the corn, the corn itself is actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide. The toxin works on the gut of certain insects causing them to die. Our food is literally rampant with GMO’s these days and with the rise of allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease in the country it is hard not to wonder whether these organisms could somehow be affecting the health of Americans that consume them in a large amount of our food supply. It is not good to be consuming trace amounts of pesticides that are sprayed on crops regularly but to eat large portions of foods in which the cell make up consists of insecticidal toxins such as Bt corn can not be ideal for the human body either! Some of the foods that are very heavily GMO produced in our country include Corn, Soy and sugar beets.
So do you have to worry about buying GMO seeds for your garden? Generally GMO seeds are for commercial use and not in your garden seeds. However, here are a few companies that don’t sell GMO seeds at all: Eden brothers, Burpee, and Gurneys.
Planting a garden and growing food for your family can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for the health and well being of your family. It’s great to get the children outside in the sunshine and teach them how their food is actually planted, grown and harvested. And of course one of the best parts is learning how to cook it and eating it comes naturally!