A few of the certified organic heirloom and hybrid seeds that have arrived so far
It’s that time of year again… when we spend hours poring over seed catalogs and trying to decide what we want to plant in the gardens this spring. I’m noticing a lot of different terminology in the seed descriptions… more and more seeds seem to be labeled organic, and almost every seed company displays some sort of disclaimer stating that their seeds are GMO-free.
So what do the terms mean? I spent some time comparing different explanations from different seed companies and seed saving organizations, and despite a lot of overlap and some mild disagreement about the different categorizations… here’s what I came up with.
First, certified organic… and that is the type of seed we’re buying exclusively this year. A good basic definition of organic seeds seems to be that the seeds have been produced without the use of… or exposure to… insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, artificial or chemical fertilizers, or sewage sludge. The seeds must have been grown, harvested and stored under strict organic rules and procedures, and must be certified 100% organic. This certification must be renewed each year.
Certified organic seeds can be heirloom or hybrids. It is also possible for heirloom or hybrid seeds to be produced naturally and without chemicals without being certified organic.
Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been passed down through several generations. Some of the heirloom seed offerings are described as having been traced as far back as Thomas Jefferson’s garden, but the qualifying minimum time span seems to be at least fifty years, or preferably before 1940. Heirloom seeds can be saved and will grow true to type every year and are always open pollinated… which means that the pollination is accomplished by a natural method such as bees, other insects, birds, or the wind. Some of the research I read included pollination by humans in this group as long as the pollination was carried out between plants of the same variety.
Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, are created when two different varieties of a plant are cross pollinated. This also is a natural process between two plants of the same plant species, with the intended goal of creating a new offspring (or hybrid) with the best traits of each of the parent plants. Usually the goal of hybridization is a larger size or a disease-resistant, hardier, more uniform crop. This is NOT GMO.
GMO seeds are the result of genetic engineering. The plant’s DNA is altered and the process can include insertion of genes from other species. This is definitely not a natural procedure and could never occur without human intervention. I appreciate the seed companies giving me… and anyone else with similar concerns… the opportunity to avoid any seeds that are GMO.
Another thing to remember is that plants grown from purchased hybrid seeds will reliably produce a crop that will be basically the same from year to year… with basically the same size harvest. Seeds saved from hybrid plants, however, will produce plants that will almost always revert back to one of the original parent plants… and unpredictable results.
Although almost everyone seems to agree that the best flavor usually comes from the heirloom varieties, plants grown from heirloom seeds will produce a crop that can vary widely from year to year, both in flavor and yield… even from plant to plant… even in the same garden… and even in the same growing conditions… but seeds saved from heirloom plants will always produce plants and crops the same as the plant the seed was saved from.