One would think that a seed is a seed is a seed, but this is not the case. In fact, the world of seeds is large and multifaceted, and I do not mean numbers of varieties. I mean types of seeds and how they are produced. The following are some things you will find as you look through catalogues.
At the end of the name for a particular variety you may see F1. This is a hybrid. Hybrids have been developed by crossing two different plants from the same family (tomatoes for example) through several generations to create a plant with certain characteristics such as plant vigor, uniform fruits, disease resistance, abundant yields and the ability to be grown over a wide area. If seeds are planted from fruits of F1 plants, the resulting plants will not be like their parents so these seeds must be purchased from seed companies each year. Plants from hybrid seeds are usually easy to grow and will be the same with each planting.
Heirloom varieties are from seeds that are open pollinated. The plants will grow true to type every time they are planted (if allowed to pollinate from only that variety). Though there is no an absolute definition of heirloom, it is said that these varieties have been developed from generation to generation, sometimes for millennia, by families or gardeners in a specific area, and even traveling from country to country. Seeds from plants of a specific variety with desirable characteristics (taste, color disease resistance, vigor) are chosen, preserved and replanted.
Heirloom plants often have very interesting stories. There are hundreds of varieties allowing for different shapes, colors, sizes and flavors. Preserving these varieties keeps the gene pool larger, whereas hybridizing reduces it. Growing these varieties will let you taste vegetables from years ago—think antique. Some are a challenge to grow, but are definitely worth the effort. Heirlooms have become popular recently and are readily available. I grow several new varieties each year to discover and experience some old favorites.
Organic seeds are grown with specific rules in place using only organic principles. In my experience, vegetables from these seeds and vegetables grown from conventional seeds taste the same but supporting organic growers is defiantly valuable. To harvest seeds, plants must be in the ground for a long time and therefore more fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides are probably used. These cannot be used when growing plants that are certified organic. “Organically grown” is always the best choice.
GMO (Genetically modified organism) seeds have been “created” to achieve a trait that is not normal to an organism (plant, animal, fish etc.) by combining genes from different species (fungus into corn and cotton to repel insects, for example). Most of these varieties are used for large scale production and we eat them when eating corn, wheat, soy beans, canola etc. GMO crops can infect non-GMO crops and the GMO gene is thereafter present in the organism. When we buy seeds from these companies or the companies they own we are supporting these practices. I don’t like them or grow them and go to great lemgths to avoid them in the seeds I use and the food I eat. They are produced by large agribusinesses that are buying smaller seed companies and discontinuing many seed varieties. This is a huge subject involving farmers and their future worldwide, politics in this country and abroad, the food available to us and its effect on our health, economics worldwide, environmental issues and more.
One can learn many things when growing a vegetable garden. Seeds are the beginning.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.