During the week I got to wondering why it is that so many things in life have become so complicated. I guess it started when I was trying to find something for dinner (being the very end of the pay period before I go shopping) and ended up making very simple meals. Those meals turned out to be some of the most satisfying meals we have had in a long time. That got me to thinking about how nice simple is sometimes. But choosing what to buy in the stores or online never seems so simple anymore.
There are a number of different types of seeds available on the market, for the seasoned gardener this does not present much in the way of a problem. But for the new gardener, those choices can seem a bit overwhelming, especially since some types of seeds are not as easily available as others.
My hope is to help you decipher the different types of seeds available so you can make a more informed decision on what type of seeds you want for your gardens this year. In a future post, I will be doing reviews on the different seed companies I have used or that readers have used in an effort to help you find the best seeds for your garden.
So How Many Different Type of Seeds Are There Anyway
There are so many different terms used to describe seeds, some of which overlap it is not surprising to me that there is some confusion out there as to what is what. Some of the terms you are likely to hear are GMO or genetically modified, hybrid, organic, heirloom and open pollinated. Many people assume that organic seed is automatically heirloom seed for instance and that is not always the case. Open Pollinated and heirloom seed do not mean the same thing either. To better understand the best seed to buy here are some definitions that can help you out.
GMO seed is becoming more and more common especially among commercial farmers but it is often present in seeds you buy in the store for your home garden. Genetically modified seeds have raised concern worldwide about the dwindling bio diversity of our seeds and food supply. Concerns about the companies that hold the patents to these seeds has also grown, so many people like to avoid using this type of seed.
In simple terms genetically modified seeds have been modified in a lab to produce a desirable trait in the seed that it did not previously possess. The DNA used is from different species, so the results can often be unpredictable. You cannot save seed from GMO seeds, the results will be unpredictable. In commercial farming the saving of many GMO seeds is forbidden by the manufacturers and new seed must be purchased every year.
There have been concerns among scientists and those in the farming community about the possibility that GMO seed may not be safe. So far it has not been proven one way or the other, but more tests need to be done to determine if GMO seeds truly are safe.
People often confuse hybrid seeds with GMO but these are in fact not the same. Hybrid seeds are the results of two varieties of the same plant being crossed. This happens in nature all the time, but frequently seed growers do so in order to cultivate seed that has certain desirable traits. This is not done with chemicals or in a lab necessarily, which means that being hybrid does not preclude a seed from being organic.
There are no concerns about health when it comes to hybrids, however you may find that many hybrid varieties are not as flavorful as heirloom seeds. Many times the emphasis placed on hybrid seeds is on the size, the color, or how long it takes to harvest rather than the flavor. The biggest problem with hybrids is that you cannot save the seed with any degree of certainty in what it will produce in subsequent years. Many hybrids are sterile and often the seed they produce is nothing like what the parent plant was.
Hybrids have their advantages if you have no plans to save seeds, they tend to be hardier, and they are often more disease resistant and offer higher yields.
Open Pollinated Seeds
This is a term that you may or may not have heard before. Generally when you talk about “purebred” seeds and plants you think about Heirloom seeds and plant but this is not necessarily true. Heirloom seeds are always open pollinated but not all open pollinated seeds are Heirloom seeds.
The term open pollinated refers to the fact that these seeds are pollinated by normal means such as insects, birds, wind or humans. This pollination allows the variety to adapt slowly over time to meet the conditions, however these seeds will always breed true year after year provided they are do not share pollen with different nearby varieties.
The big difference between open pollinated seed and Heirloom is that open pollinated seeds can be new strains of seeds, provided that they breed true year after year.
Heirloom seeds are gaining in popularity in recent years, and with good reason. Heirloom seeds are always open pollinated, but more than that, they are varieties that have been handed down by our grandparents and their parents for generations. These seeds have a history and some times that history goes back a hundred years or more.
There has been a huge movement to preserve heirloom varieties, and for good reason, heirloom seeds offer some of the best varieties and flavor you will find in your garden.
I have saved this classification for last, simply because most people think that Organic, heirloom, open pollinated all mean the same thing. This is not the case, it is important to remember that organic seed is seed without synthetic pesticides or fertilizer used to grow it. Organic seed cannot be genetically engineered either, but it can be hybrid. It does not have to be heirloom either, open pollenated seed can also be organic.
So Which Seed to Choose……
So here is the big question, which seed to choose for my garden? I have always steered away from GMO seed, as much for ethical reasons as for the concerns I have about our food supply.
I also choose organic seed because nobody needs pesticides….
I love heirloom seeds, because of their diversity and flavor, but I am not against using open pollinated or hybrid varieties provided they are organic.
I guess the answer lies in what works best for you, and what varieties of seeds you truly want. You may find that a hybrid allows you to grow broccoli in an area where it might not otherwise grow. Don’t let the fact that it is a hybrid stop you from enjoying fresh broccoli this year. There are benefits to be had from buying heirloom and open pollinated seed, but this does not mean that I am never going to buy hybrid seed if it suits my needs better.
I hope that helps! Next in my series I am going to do a review of many of the seed companies and what their specific offerings are. I hope to include a printable table that you can refer to when buying your seeds.
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