If you live in the Northern hemisphere, the seed catalogs have started piling up in your mail box, the department stores and gardening centers are full of packets of seed, and you’re anxiously watching the weather forecast to find out just how soon can you get that first packet of seed in the ground. But as you start flipping through the catalogs and seeing what’s offered on the shelves, you start to scratch your head, because you see things like GMO, you see things like Hybrid, Heirloom, Organic and you’re not entirely sure what all of those terms mean.
You’ve perhaps seen reports about Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s and you’re concerned and you don’t know what the right way to turn is. Well, I want to address a few of those today without getting too far into detail because I don’t want the video to stretch on and on. I want you to just be at a comfortable place where when you go to plant your seeds this spring, you know what you’re getting into.
GMO Seeds in Stores?
You can relax a bit about the dangers of you possibly planting GM or Genetically Modified seed. You simply will not on accident purchase GM seed. It’s not going to happen. There’s no such thing as GM seed sitting on the shelves of your local gardening center. They don’t sell it in small packets. Instead when you do find it, it’s in large sacks that are going to cost hundreds of dollars because they’re meant to plant acres upon acres of that one crop. So no matter where you stand on the pros or cons of Genetically Modified seed, don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to be able to just accidentally purchase and plant some. It’s not going to happen.
Let’s get into what you are actually going to find in your seed catalogs and on the shelves at the store – seeds labeled as Heirloom, Open Pollinated, Hybrid and Organic.
Heirloom seeds are those that are open pollinated and have been around for some time. They’ve proven themselves as stable varieties and we know that the seed that they produce is true to seed. What that means is that the seed that comes out of the fruit or out of the flower is going to produce the exact same plant that that fruit grew on. The upside of growing open pollinated or Heirloom varieties is that you can save the seed, or, said another way, buy the packet once and never, ever again.
Hybrids are plants that have been selected to be crossbred by a person under controlled circumstances to produce the seed that has certain valuable traits that they can then use that seed to grow new plants.
For example: Let’s say as you scroll through your catalogs, you see something that says that it’s an open pollinated variety and it’s known to have a certain disease resistance, and then you see another open pollinated variety that says that it is very good for growing in hot humid conditions, but what if you want both?
Well, over time, and the course of hundreds of years, Mother Nature may well devise a strain herself that does that, but some people can’t wait that long and they want to do something right now, so they take two plants and in a controlled measure, cross pollinate them to produce a seed that produces a new plant, that the new plant has both the traits to be resistant to a disease and do well in a hot and humid condition and when they have that plant through controlled methods, they clone it and then they keep producing seed off that same plant and keep selling that seed to you as a Hybrid seed.
Now the reason they produce it that way is because there’s a catch about Hybrid seeds. You cannot take the seed off of the plant and expect it to grow true to seed. It will grow, but it’s probably not going to grow, there’s a lower chance of it growing, the same kind of fruit, the same disease resistance or growing tolerance that the see that you purchased from the store had. Instead, whatever it grows is going to be edible but it may not have the traits that you were looking for. So the catch is that you end up having to go back to whoever developed it to get the seed again. There’s nothing Genetically Modified about it, instead it’s just someone speeding up natural selection and trying to get the desired traits out of a particular plant that they want.
Now another one that I ran into at the store is this, and it simply says Organic. Now this means nothing more than the plants that the seed was harvested from were grown in a way that is in compliance with the USDA, or wherever you live, organics certification standards. It does not mean that the seed itself is Heirloom, or Open Pollinated, or Hybrid. You still need to check into that, if that is something that matters to you. Organic means nothing more than the seed was grown or harvested off of a plant that was grown in the standards required by your agencies organic certification standards.
Take your Pick and Buy your Seeds
So, I hope that that sort of summarizes and clarifies some of the things regarding the different kinds of seed packets you’re going to find. To put it again into one little bundle, you’re not, on accident, going to buy GM seed. You’re not going to find it in the seed catalogs that are coming from the major companies. You’re not going to find it sitting on the shelves of the gardening center or the department store. Heirloom or Open Pollinated seeds mean that whatever you grow you can harvest the seed and grow the exact same plant again every single year that you harvest. Hybrid seeds mean that someone selected some different plants to give you a seed that is going to have a certain disease resistance or other trait to it and if you want to grow it again, you’re going to have to buy the seeds again.