Many people are concerned about the implications of GMO (genetically modified organisms) within our food supply. As planting season approaches us, how do you know which seeds to buy? What about hybrid seeds, or heirloom? Don’t worry – we have answers for you! We definitely believe in eating more fruits and vegetables, and what better way than to grow them right in your own backyard! The first step is finding and purchasing seeds. We have put together your Vegetable Garden Purchasing Guide.
I want to first clarify some definitions so you know what you are looking for:
Organic. To be labeled “organic,” a seed must be grown in compliance with USDA’s National Organic Program. Certified organic seed cannot contain genetically engineered traits, must be grown in certified organic soil using only inputs (e.g., fertilizer and pest controls) allowed in organic agriculture, and packaged in a certified facility.
Hybrid. A hybrid seed is a seed produced by cross-pollinated plants. In hybrid seed production, the crosses are specific and controlled. To produce hybrid seed, specific varieties are crossed and the resulting hybrid seed is collected. Hybrids are bred to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants, such as better yield, greater uniformity, improved color and disease resistance.
Heirloom. An heirloom seed comes from a plant with desirable characteristics that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open-pollination (pollination by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms) while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. There is some controversy over the term heirloom and what classifies as an heirloom plant. Some argue that the true definition of heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations. Despite different interpretations, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated.
GMO. Genetically Modified Organism refers to varieties that contain a genetic trait not normally occurring in the plant’s DNA. Genes from one species are artificially implanted into the DNA of another species, the seeds of which contain combined genetics that would not exist in nature. However, once artificially created, certain GMO crops have demonstrated the ability to pass along their modified genes to other plants within the species.
Now that you know the terms, when you are looking for seeds you can know exactly what to look for. Here are our top 3 places to buy seeds that contain Organic, Hybrid and Heirloom.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. All varieties offered for sale by Seed Savers Exchange in their catalog and website are untreated, non-GMO varieties. They publish a general catalog, which anyone can order from, but if you become a member, you will get access to the members’ yearbook and directory, and have access to literally hundreds more varieties. Great for those gardeners who are always on the lookout for something unique to grow in their garden.
Burpee is a mainstay in the gardening world. They offer organic, hybrid, and heirloom varieties. It is easy to determine which seeds are which because they publish a list of both their heirloom and organic seeds. The hybrid seeds are labeled and easily identified. They offer a wide variety of vegetable seeds, but also perennial flowers. The full-color photos are always useful and beautiful.
The High Mowing seed company sells nothing but 100% certified organic seed. The catalog consists of over 600 heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid varieties of vegetable, fruit, herb and flower seed.
Happy Planting! What are you going to grow this year?