Heirloom and Organic Seeds: How are they different?
There are endless discussions surrounding GMO seeds vs hybrid seeds. There is also confusion surrounding heirloom (AKA heritage seeds) and organic seeds. We could talk about all the issues surrounding these hot topic for hours. However, the goal for this article is to clear up the confusion surrounding these terms.
Sifting through all the information on GMO seeds vs hybrid seeds can be overwhelming. It’s often hard to tell the truth from corporate America fiction. Let’s blow away the smoke and take an honest, simple look at these terms.
Thinking GMO seeds and hybrid seeds are the same thing, or that they are related is a dangerous misconception. Yet, it’s a simple thought to clear up. These two processes could not be more different.
A hybrid is the crossing of two parent plants of the same kind to produce a desired result. Take tomatoes for instance. Say you want a remarkably round, radiantly red tomato. If you cross pollinate a perfect round tomato with a bright red one, you’ll get an remarkably round, radiantly red tomato! See how that works?
You will see the term “F1 hybrid.” This means plant breeders were able to produce the desired seed in the first generation of cross breeding. Gardeners achieve this by combining two pure parent lines which have the desired traits. The breeders pollinate them by hand under row covers, or by using some other form of controlled conditions. Seeds are then harvested from the females. Now you have an F1 hybrid.
We don’t plant hybrids on Fairhaven Farm. It’s hard to save seeds from them. They’re often sterile. If they are fertile, the likelihood of getting the same plant is iffy. The seeds you collect can be like only one of the parent plants, or you could get the same plant again. It’s a risk. By the third generation (seeds from the second planting) you will not get the same plant again.
Now, GMO (genetically modified organisms)…. They’re also referred to as genetically engineered, which I find interesting. To simplify such a complex issue is challenging. Let’s try anyway.
Unlike hybrids, GMO seeds are created in a lab. Scientists, not farmers, use totally technical processes like gene splicing. They inject foreign genetic material of one species into the DNA of an unrelated species. Mixing the DNA of plant, animal, bacteria, herbicides, and/or pesticides. They create combinations that would ever happen in nature.
Remember the famous GM tomato spliced with fish and herbicides. Yep, the fish had anti-freeze properties. They wanted the tomato to be frost resistant. So they injected the fish DNA into the tomato. They added some herbicide, hoping the bugs wouldn’t eat it. Sounds like it would be OK? But DNA alteration, especially between unrelated species, is unpredictable at best.
So now you see that hybrids and GMOs are not the same. They are not related.
Summary of GMO vs Hybrid
Hybrids are created by gardeners crossing the same kind of plants. This process occurs in nature with open pollinated plants of the same kind. If you plant them too close together, they cross pollinate creating a hybrid.
GMOs, are created by scientists in a lab. They combine the DNA of unrealted specices and chemicals. Things which would never happen in nature.
Someone I respect said, “You don’t need to worry about getting GMO seeds from seed catalogs or your local farm supply. They only come in large bags for commercial farmers.” He was wrong. Corn, soy, even zuchinni seeds are sold by Monsanto to many seed companies. It does matter what seed you buy and where you buy it.
Heirloom and Organic
What about heirloom (AKA heritage) and organic seeds. These two are not near as complicated as GMOs vs hybrids.
An heirloom seed is a seed traceable through generations. They are traced to a time before pesticides and herbicides were used, especially by family farms.
I know what someone is saying. “You can’t know where that seed came from years and years ago.” Well, you’re right, I can’t. That’s why you have to find a seed company you trust. If we have to buy seeds, we have a few companies we feel comfortable with.
We only use heirloom seeds on our farm and buy them as organic seeds whenever available. We save the seeds of these plants for replanting year after year. They always produce the same healthy, hearty plant. This gives us a sustainable seed supply for our farm.
Organic seeds are grown by organic farmers. They have not been exposed to any chemical at any point. They were planted, grown, harvested, and packaged using organic methods only. They can be hybrid or heirloom so watch the wording.
A Few Other Terms
You often see the term open pollinated used when discussing seeds. Don’t let this confuse you. Open pollinated means the plant is pollinated by bees, other insects, wind, and such. The seeds from open pollinated plants will reproduce new generations of the same plant.
You have to be aware that open pollinated seeds will cross pollinate. Planting more than one variety of open pollinated watermelons, for instance, allows cross pollination. I made this mistake a few years ago.
I was in a hurry and thought I had separated the watermelons enough to prevent this. The result was a nice Orangello, Ali Baba sweet watermelon cross breed. I couldn’t save seeds that year. The unique fruit was delicious. I was just disappointed to have to buy watermelon seeds for the next year.
We avoid cross pollination by three practices. We allow enough space between varieties. We also use succession planting. A helpful tool for us has been the use of pollinating bags. These three practices help to ensure the viability of our heirloom seeds. Cross pollination is also preventable by using green houses, row covers, and things like that.
The term pure and natural also appears often when referring to seeds. It means the seed isn’t treated with pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemical, and that it’s not GMO. This does not mean the seed is organic, but many organic gardeners use this type of seed.
There are many places on the worldwide web to find information. You can read for hours and find fact, fantasy, and fear. It’s important to have reliable sources you feel comfortable with and have confidence in. We hope to be one of your sources.
As a homesteader or farmer, you have to decide how you feel about these complex issues. Act on your decision and continue to care for your family.
We face issues with our homesteads that our grandparents and great-grandparents could never imagine. Who would have dreamed choosing a seed for planting would be a major decision?
Have we cleared the air and answered your questions? Do the terms hybrid, GMO, heirloom, and organic make sense to you now? Making your informed decision will be easier once you’ve made the distinctions.
The Farmer’s Lamp and Fairhaven Farm take a firm stand against GMOs. We believe that every person has the right to make their own decision. After all, we each have to live with the consequences of our decisions.
We don’t argue or get confrontational with those who don’t agree with us. If we want to be able to have our own convictions, we must want others to be able to do the same. Our goal is to provide information, share our beliefs and practices with you, and leave the deciding to you. It’s your journey, no one else’s.
Remember, you can reach me personally by using the Contact Me page or by commenting below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack