Its January in Indiana and you are snowed in. What do you do? Well, if you love gardening, it's a great time to study seed catalogs. There are some things to think about when buying seeds: Heirloom vs Hybrid, Organic vs Non-Organic and of course GMO's. Here are some informational tips:
- Open-pollination is when pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year. As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed produced will remain true-to-type year after year.
- An heirloom variety is a plant variety that has a history of being passed down within a family or community, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry or furniture. An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. While some companies create heirloom labels based on dates (such as a variety that is more than 50 years old), Seed Savers Exchange identifies heirlooms by verifying and documenting the generational history of preserving and passing on the seed.
- Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed by human intervention. Hybridization can occur naturally through random crosses, but commercially available hybridized seed, often labeled as F1, is deliberately created to breed a desired trait. The first generation of a hybridized plant cross also tends to grow better and produce higher yields than the parent varieties due to a phenomenon called 'hybrid vigor'. However, any seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable and cannot be saved for use in following years. Not only will the plants not be true-to-type, but they will be considerably less vigorous. Gardeners who use hybrid plant varieties must purchase new seed every year. Hybrid seeds can be stabilized, becoming open-pollinated varieties, by growing, selecting, and saving the seed over many years.
- GMOs or more accurately, varieties created using 'recombinant DNA technology', can be either hybrids or open pollinated varieties. Recombinant DNA technology is the ability to combine DNA molecules from different sources into one molecule in a test tube. The inserted DNA may come from related or unrelated species, or created in a laboratory. GMOs are not permitted in organic farming systems.
- Organic seeds: Organic seeds are regulated by the USDA and must be grown in accordance with USDA guidelines on and organic farm. Both Heirlooms and Hybrids can be organic.
- Non-organic seeds can be grown on a farm not using organic methods. And in some cases the seeds can be treated with a fungicide.