It used to be an easy method to buy seeds but not anymore. Walking into a farmer’s market or garden center and buying a packet of lettuce seeds was something you could do without concern. Now, the three very different kinds of readily available seeds need a sharp reading off of all the fine printing on the bottle.
In general, homesteaders, preppers, and gardeners will hold some very strong opinions about which seed types are best and why. Folks prefer to cling to their seed buying patterns to their favorite teams, like sports fans, except for much more significant reasons. The type of seeds you want to grow will have a significant effect on the chances of growing a good yield, being able to collect seeds to grow the following year, and also potentially on your family’s health as well as the climate.
These kinds of seeds have been around for decades, literally. I grew tomatoes from seeds last year, which were the “offspring” of tomatoes Thomas Jefferson planted in his Monticello garden. After-harvest, heirloom seeds are always saved and passed down across generations. They are also freely pollinated and grow the finest fruits and vegetables that you could possibly taste.
New varieties of heirloom seeds are created by cross pollinating two related yet distinct plants for at least six generations but usually 10. This method of development is considerably slower than the one used to create hybrid seeds but creates true parent plant replicas. The garden’s micro-climate, where the seeds were slowly developed over multiple seasons, would have focused on the seeds, making them more acclimated to the patterns of weather, soil and insects.
What Is Open Pollination?
Open pollinated seeds are those which can be produced without human intervention by cross-pollination of two of the exact same plant type. Heirloom seeds are the only seeds capable of opening up pollinates and creating a working duplicate of parent plants.
The plants produced by open pollination are only slightly and naturally varied because of the soil and other surrounding environmental conditions. Seeds transported by birds, wind, rain, or insects are also responsible for relocating seeds and churning out “volunteer” plants in your garden or yard at a different location.
For decades, farmers have acquired and stored seed through natural open pollination. Poor farmers around the world, both long ago and now, relied on deliberate or accidental seed selection and pollination in this way to gather seeds for the coming year to replant.
Both seeds from the heirloom are freely pollinated, and can be preserved and transferred from generation to generation.
During the 1960s, hybrid seeds were created as part of what was dubbed the “Green Revolution.” The movement’s goal was to enhance grain yields on a global scale by creating hybrid seeds that could thrive when densely planted, living in an environment where chemical pesticides and fertilizers were heavily applied and sustained by mechanical watering. The people involved in the campaign assumed that hybrid seeds could yield more than heirloom seeds.
The U.S. government promised poor countries like Mexico and India that the “miracle seeds” recently produced would help lift peasant farmers out of poverty. The farmers were given free bags of both hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizer to coerce them to try to plant the hybrid seeds.
The poor farmers saw better yields but they also needed much more water and fertilizer to grow their crops. When the seeds they saved from the annual harvest were not growing or growing well for planting the following year, the farmers were forced to buy new seeds – which was not in their extremely limited budgets.
Hybrid seeds may be organically grown, and are not inherently genetically engineered. One example of producing an entirely new form of product using the hybrid seed process is the honeycrisp apple. This apple was developed at Minnesota University when two other types of apples were combined to create a juicier, and more crispy, new type of apple.
The benefit of using hybrid seeds is the ability to cross pollinate the best traits of two plants of the same genus in a natural manner. Hybrid plants can require more fertilizer than heirloom or GMO plants to survive, as well as water.
The most basic and oldest type of seed hybridization involves corn detasseling. During this process one row of the mother parent plant is cultivated and in each section of a growing plot three rows of the father parent plant are grown.
The rows of the mother parent plant have their pollen withdrawn – or are separated. This means that only the father-parent plants receive pollen from the plants. Next, the seeds are harvested from the mother plants and hybrids are dubbed F1 generation.
The vast majority of hybrid seeds are produced using the same free, or almost free, low-tech method. Usually, the production of hybrid seeds takes place inside greenhouses or in fields that have both been enclosed and boast covered rows. However, some hybrid seeds are produced by manipulation of DNA within biotech labs.
If you sow the seeds of a non-sterile hybrid plant you will produce a next generation or F2 plant. This plant will not necessarily have the same chosen parent plant characteristics but a random combination of characteristics that will produce a completely different plant.
Related: How I Grow My Herbs Indoors
Genetically Modified (GMO) Seeds
This controversial seeds were created by the biotech industry in an effort they have claimed will make the crops more resistant to drought, disease, and weeds. Genetically modified seeds hit store shelves in 1996 – and now GMO seeds dominate that space around the world.
Biotech scientists take a positive trait from one living entity and instill it into a plant’s features. This process shifts the plant’s genetic structure so it shows characteristics that are unfamiliar to it.
GMO rice, for example, produced “Golden Rice” by adding two genes to a rice plant so it could absorb beta-carotene in its grains. They thought this would improve the consumption of vitamin A and help reduce blindness in childhood. In the case of GMO corn, every little kernel has been injected with a bacterial toxin in an effort to make it more rootworm resistant.
Every sort of fruit and vegetable on the planet can be found in varieties of heirloom seeds. Hybrid seeds are available in about the same amount and degree of variety.
To date, it has only licensed a small number of GMO seeds for commercial sale in the United States. But since corn and soybeans are used as the basis for many groceries we buy at the supermarket, the scope of genetically modified seeds is massive.
Types Of GMO Seeds In America
Below are some of the most popular and prevalent GMO seed varieties available at both far and garden stores and online.
The cost of seeds varies widely not just based on heirloom, GMO, or hybrid type, but by manufacturer and rarity of the breed. Typically, heirloom seeds cost more than the mega mass-produced GMO seeds and most hybrid seeds. But, due to the fact hybrid seeds generally require both more water, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow, making the growing to harvest cost substantially more.
Can You Avoid GMOs?
Avoiding the consumption of genetically modified food becomes almost impossible-unless you expand and lift the bulk of what you eat. Approximately 85 percent of the food currently contained in grocery store shelves contains GM ingredients.
Do not foresee the labeling of any seeds or foods to note that they contain genetically modified ingredients. Biotech firms have long campaigned against compulsory labeling of their goods. Heirloom seed suppliers are still proud to show a mark that states the origins of their products, much as usually do organic food suppliers.
If you don’t mind growing GMO seeds, there’s little need to squinch your eyes to read all of the fine print on a seed catalog label or inside cover. But if keeping your garden natural and/or being able to harvest seeds of quality season after season are part of your objectives of self-reliance, due care needs to be taken while searching seed packets and commercials.