The terms heirloom, hybrid, and genetically modified (GMO) are a much debated topic now a days. These terms get tossed about a lot in the gardening world. What are heirlooms, hybrids and GMO’s? Mystery solved! Read on to learn more about the seed truth: the truth about heirloom, hybrid and GMO seeds you need to know!
What is the seed truth?
The terms heirloom, hybrid and GMO in plants, refers to how the plants are reproduced; whether by simple seed saving, by cross–pollinating two different species, or by introducing foreign genes.
None of these methods are easily labeled good or bad and you won’t find much agreement on which is the best, either.
Heirlooms are plants that have stood the test of time, hybrids are often more disease resistant or higher yielding, and GMOs although still the subject of much study and scrutiny, can be life savers. Each has its pros and cons.
What Type of Vegetable Seed Should You Choose?
How can you be sure that the hybrid vegetable seeds you grow aren’t genetically modified and bad for you? Would you be better off sticking to heirloom vegetables or could they be modified too? Here’s a breakdown of what you are getting from each type of seed.
Heirloom vegetables are not a special species of plants. The term heirloom vegetable is used to describe any type of vegetable seed that has been saved and grown for a period of years and is passed down by the gardener that preserved it. It has a provenance, of sorts. To be capable of being saved, all heirloom seed must be open pollinated, so that is will grow true to seed.
Open pollinated, or OP, plants are simply varieties that are capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings just like the parent plant.
The seed truth on hybrids. The term hybrid refers to plants that have been cross-bred with other plants of the same kind to produce certain traits. For example, plant breeders can breed plants to be more productive, more disease resistant or to produce earlier in the season. These traits can save a garden!
Even though some may feel unsure about the idea of hybrid plants and refuse to grow them. There are some major positives to the concept of hybrids. Cross breeding is something that happens all the time in nature.
The seed truth is that while plants can cross-pollinate in nature and hybrids repeatedly selected and grown may eventually stabilize and become open pollinated, most hybrid seeds are relatively new crosses and seed from these hybrids will not produce plants with identical qualities.
For example, each year new hybrid tomato varieties are offered. You may see them labeled as hybrids or F1, first generation (first-generation hybrid), or F2, second generation. These may eventually stabilize, but for the moment a tomato like the popular ‘Early Girl’ does not produce seeds that will reliably produce the same tomato.
Seed from hybridized plants tends to revert to the qualities of the parents, so tomatoes grown from seeds saved from your ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes might still be tasty, but not so early.
Anyone can select and eventually stabilize their own seed or even hybridize new plants, but plant and seed companies have recently begun patenting their crosses so that only have the right to reproduce the hybrids they’ve developed.
Genetically Modified Plants
Hybrids are not the same as genetically modified organisms or (GMOs) which can be any plant, animal or microorganism which have been genetically altered using techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering.
What makes them GMO?
Plants like corn that has the pesticide Bt engineered into its genetic makeup to make it resistant to certain pests are GMO crops. Bt is a natural pesticide, but it would never naturally find its way into corn seed.
You are probably not excited about eating food with pesticides in them. These types of concerns have given GMOs a terrible reputation. Even though GMO seed has a bad rep, since being introduced into the commercial food industry have revolutionized the way food is produced on a large scale.
Where to buy GMO free seeds?
I see people all of the time ask, “where can I buy seeds that are GMO free?” and the answer is, everywhere! It is simple, GMO seeds are not available to the home gardener. Yes, you can buy vegetables at the store that were produced from GMO seeds but you cannot grow them at home. All seeds that you can buy are GMO free!
I choose to use a combination of both hybrid seeds as well as primarily heirloom seeds to grow on my urban farm. I believe that using a mixture of the different kinds of seeds gives me an advantage in growing the most food on my farm.
As far as the GMO seeds go, I do not support the use of them nor do I choose to purchase those vegetables from the supermarket. I choose to support local farmers and artisan growers that use organic growing methods.
I hope this has given you the information that you need to make an informed decision on the different types of seeds. I encourage you to grow using different types of seeds and gardening methods.
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Also, check out our article on What is succession planting? or How to grow Carrots!
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