Many home gardeners start out buying seeds from just about any old place – with very little understanding that all seeds are not created equal. This can result in poor yields and wasted money. Choosing the type of seed to buy for your vegetable garden can be a very confusing process: open-pollinated, heirloom, hybrid, organic – what’s the difference? There’s tons of information, and more importantly, misinformation, out there. When you’re shopping for seeds, how do you know which is the best fit for your garden…and your budget? This weeks eNewsletter aims to clear up that confusion, providing a simple, brief, easy to understand reference so you can buy this season’s seeds with confidence! And by the way, you can get your seeds from us!!! Click right here to see what seeds we’re carrying this year…
OK, let’s get started…
Open-pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, or other natural methods. It’s the opposite of “hybrid.” It’s basically nature doing it’s thing. Because there’s no restriction of pollen flow between plants, open-pollinated seeds will yield fruits and vegetables with more variety. What this means is that you’ll likely see some differences in shapes and sizes. This isn’t a “bad” thing – it’s more about personal preference.
Open-pollination is done either through cross-pollination by birds, bugs, wind, water, etc., or through self-pollination from female and male parts of the same flower, or flowers on the same plant.
If you’re looking to save your own seeds for future crops, open-pollinated plants will adapt to local climate and growing conditions year after year, helping their resistance to insects and disease – as long as the seeds you’re saving are from the plants that performed the best each year. By doing this you’ll likely get crops with the same traits (called “true to type”). You’ll need to make sure you haven’t planted different seeds of the same species too close to each other. In that case you’re likely to get some cross-pollination of traits, even with self-pollinating plants. If you do plan on saving seeds, we recommend that you thoroughly research how to properly plant your crops to preserve the seed – you won’t end up with a “squcumber” if you plant squash too close to cucumber, but you will likely see a combination of traits if you plant a yellow squash too close to your zucchini.
Heirloom seeds have a history of being passed down, usually within a family, a community, or a small geographic area. Some gardeners define “heirloom” as needing to be at least 100 years old. Others say 50, or even 25 years qualifies. There does seem to be a growing consensus that to be considered an heirloom seed it had to be in existence prior to 1951. That was the first year the widespread use of hybrid seeds was introduced by seed companies.
Heirloom seeds have become more and more popular over the past several years, which means you need to carefully review the particular seed’s description before purchasing. For instance, some seeds now have the label of “new heirloom.” The word “new” is appealing to consumers, and marketers know this. But the word “heirloom” designates something being passed down from generation to generation. It’s not possible to have a “new heirloom.” Most likely if you’re buying seeds with this label it’s not a true heirloom.
Since heirloom seeds have been passed from generation to generation because of their superior traits, they are very desirable to the home gardener that wants to save seeds.
*** To make the claim of “heirloom,” the seed must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.***
Although heirloom seeds are generally less expensive than hybrids, excellent flavor is probably the #1 reason people plant heirloom seeds. Remember, heirlooms come from generations of saving the best seeds from the best plants. At the very least, they’ve been saved for decades, and some have been saved for centuries. These seeds are meant to be planted, harvested and eaten – not ripened in a controlled facility and shipped across the country – so breeding for flavor takes precedence. Hybrids were created in part to create produce that could be shipped long distances without rotting, bruising, etc. Taste has been compromised as a result.
Studies are showing that heirlooms can pack more nutrition than hybrids. One reason for that may be because the “yield” per plant can be a little lower on an heirloom plant than a hybrid plant. The push for more fruits per plant in hybrids looks to have compromised the nutritional value in some. For many home gardeners, a slightly lower yield is well worth the trade off for scrumptious flavor and high nutritional impact. Commercial farmers clearly have different needs….which is why the tomato you buy at the grocery store looks lovely, but has very little taste to it.
As mentioned above, heirlooms are less uniform than hybrids. This definitely is an advantage to the home gardener when it comes to the ripening of your plants. Who wants all of their zucchinis ready to harvest at the same time?! Commercial farmers, not home gardeners. Let’s face it, you can only cook, bake, can, and eat so much at a time.
Hybridization is a human controlled method of pollination in which the carefully chosen pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed. Hybridization can occur naturally, but the hybrid seed you’ll find in any garden store (often labeled as F1) has been deliberately created to breed a desired end result,such as appearance, durability, and/or more fruits per plant. Hybrids are often mistaken for GMO’s, but they are not genetically engineered (more on GMO’s below).
So hybrids are bred for uniformity in the fruits they produce, color, disease resistance, etc. They will be very consistent from year to year. This can be valuable for commercial organic growing and also helps home gardeners if you struggle with a certain pest or disease. You may also need to grow a hybrid if you want to grow a specific vegetable that struggles in your region of the country or climate (they tend to do better in extreme climates).
*** If you’re interested in saving some of your own seeds for future planting, home gardeners can save seeds from open-pollinated, heirloom varieties only, not hybrids seeds. ***
Hybrid seeds cannot be saved, because they aren’t “true to type.” The traits that have been bred into the seed through manipulated cross-pollination don’t replicate naturally in the seeds for next season’s crop. You would likely get an end product that had the traits of one of the “grandparents,” if anything at all, not the same crop that you got the first season.
Hybrid seeds also tend to be more expensive than open-pollinated seeds because they must be hand pollinated in controlled environments, and also because the breeder would most likely be the exclusive source of that particular variety.
Now that you have some data, it’s time to choose. Hybrids have their benefits, but primarily in organic commercial farming, while choosing open-pollinated varieties conserves the diversity of vegetables. From a political perspective, home gardeners that choose to plant heirloom seeds are making a conscious decision to help protect against losing unique varieties to a certain corporate conglomerate successfully taking over global control of seeds. We feel it’s dangerous to lose the ability to save seeds from not only a survival of our food supply viewpoint, but also from the right we have to choose the quality of food we put into our mouth. At the very least, focusing on heirloom varieties continues a historical connection to gardening and food production, which protects our seed heritage.
A Few Thoughts On Organics
Keep in mind that “organic” doesn’t refer to a seed type or variety. It refers to the growing method of the parent plant of the seed. Your seeds being organic may be important to you because:
- Many commercial seed crops use synthetic chemicals for fertilization and pesticide. No Thanks!
- Seed produced organically will produce plants that are more likely to thrive under organic growing conditions. Note: unless you grow your organic seed under organic conditions, you won’t harvest an organic crop. So paying the extra money for organic seeds, and then covering them with chemical fertilizer defeats the point.
In our humble opinion, the most rewarding gardening experience comes from….
Organic, Open-pollinated, Heirloom Seeds
“Organic” gives our family the healthiest produce possible, from the standpoint of ingesting no toxic chemicals.
“Open-pollinated” provides us with plants that are produced straight from nature, with all of it’s glorious elements contributing to our table, and “Heirlooms” serve us delicious, highly nutritious fruits and vegetables that frankly remind us of what food used to taste like when we were kids, plus we want to do our part to help in the preservation of natural seeds.
If you’ve decided that organic, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds are the right decision for you, why wait? You can get what you need for your garden right now!
* Zucchini Squash
* Butternut Squash
* Pickling Cucumbers
* Slicing Cucumbers
* Green Beans
* Swiss Chard
We’ve searched high and low for a great, affordable source for organic, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds for our own garden. We also choose not to support he “big box” seed companies (even if they do offer organic seeds) – we wanted to make sure the seeds we bought were from family-owned farms and co-ops. We were so happy with the source we found that we knew we wanted to help distribute as many of the seeds as we could – hence our adventure on Amazon was born. Having a garden of the highest quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Just click the picture above if you’d like to order some, and we’ll get your seeds mailed out to you right away (including FREE shipping). We can’t wait to get our hands dirty in the garden – how about you?
Take Care and Get Prepared,
Casey and Lynn
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“GMOs present a certain unquantifiable risk, since there’s a lot we don’t know about these crops.
~ Michael Pollan