As vegetable gardening becomes more popular in backyard (or front yard) gardens I find myself faced with a whole new community of new gardeners. Each season people walk through our shop doors proclaiming they want to start their first vegetable garden.
They then look at our two seed rack options and are either confused or automatically turn to one rack or the other. Our shop carries Ed Hume Seeds and Territorial Seeds. Why these two companies? Both are Northwest grown and both are Non-GMO. What?! Ed Hume is non-GMO? Yep. Totally changed your view didn’t I?
There is a whirlwind of information floating about regarding a few key terms in today’s vegetable garden. There is also a whole lot of confusion about exactly what these terms mean. I’m here to clarify them.
Let’s start with the “evil” one first.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organism): According to Wikipedia “Genetically modified foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), specifically, genetically modified crops. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques.” DNA. They take the DNA from on organism and splice it into the DNA of another organism. This isn’t injecting a pesticide into a seed. This is modifying a food crop at its most basic genetic level. This is Roundup Ready Corn. If you purchased a GMO plant, saved the seed and replanted it, men in black suits will swoop down and persecute you.
Hybrid: Hybrid is a little more complex to explain. A hybrid is where you take the pollen from one plant and introduce it to another plant. This is plant biology at its most basic element. I found this explanation to be one of the best:
A hybrid plant is one that is bred from two different types of plant. For an example, let’s take a hypothetical F-1 hybrid tomato plant. Some time, several years back, a plant breeder found one open-pollinated tomato plant that was very vigorous, but the fruit was nothing to write home about. And he also found an open-pollinated tomato plant that produced terrific fruit, but it was kind of a wimpy, low-production plant. He spends a few years working with the plants, separately, growing and selecting seed from those plants that show the best of its chosen attributes (in this case, vigor or flavor). Once he’s satisfied that he has seed from the very best of each type of plant, he grows them out, then cross-pollinates them. The resulting seed is an F-1 hybrid. F-1 hybrid seed is only produced by crossing two pure lines of other plants. When you plant an F-1 hybrid seed, you get a plant that exhibits the attributes that the breeder spent all of those years perfecting.
This would be an Early Girl Tomato. However, if you save the seed from that Early Girl Tomato and try to replant it, you will no get an Early Girl tomato. That is an even more complex explanation.
Open Pollination: Open Pollinated plants are those pollinated by natural means (wind, bees, ants, humans) and when the seeds of the resulting fruit is replanted it will come true to seed. Open pollination is important for the next definition.
Heirloom: The term heirloom is a bit vague. Some believe the term means a plant that originated over 50 years ago (according to Seed Savers Exchange). Some believe it is plants that originated prior to 1945 (the end of WWII). Some believe heirlooms are plants that originated prior to 1951 (the introduction of widespread hybrid food crops). No matter what the specific definition heirloom plants are open pollinated and if the seeds from these crops are saved they will come true to form.
What does this all mean for the home gardener? For starters the number of GMO crops available for retail sale is quite limited. There is also no labeling on the packaging indicating that this is a GMO seed. Likewise for food sold for consumption. According to the FDA genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption. In my personal opinion, GMOs have not been around long enough to study long term impact. There are other factors involved in GMOs that I don’t want to go into.
The major point is that there are 2 large seed companies that create all of the GMO crops in the US. Monsanto and Cargill. Both are the majority seed holders in the US (GMO and not). The smaller seed companies around the world purchase seeds from these two large seed houses. Not all seeds produced by these two companies are GMO. Some are simply hybrid (Early Girl Tomato). Likewise not all hybrid seeds produced come from only Monsanto or Cargill (Early Girl Tomato).
If you purchase an Early Girl Tomato Seed from a seed company in a big box store (with the exception of Ed Hume) you may possibly be purchasing a seed that originated with Monsanto. If you purchase an Early Girl seed from a company on the following list* you are not putting your money in Monsanto’s hands.
All Good Things Organic
Annapolis Valley Heritage Seed Company
Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek Seed Co.
Diane’s Flower Seeds (she has veggies now, too)
Fedco Seed Co. - phasing out seminis seeds.
Fisher’s Seeds - 406-388-6052 They don’t have a website, but they will send you a catalog if you give them your address
PO Box 236, Belgrade, MT 59714
Garden City Seeds
Heirlooms Evermore Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Hudson Valley Seed Library
Ed Hume Seeds
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Kusa Seed Society
Lake Valley Seeds
Mountain Rose Herbs
Native Seeds for the Arid Southwest
Natural Gardening Company
New Hope Seed Company
Nichol’s Garden Nursery
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Prairie Road Garden
Sand Hill Preservation Center
Seed Saver’s Exchange
Sustainable Seed Co
Territorial Seed Company
Trees of Antiquity
Turtle Tree Seed
Underwood Garden Seeds
Wild Garden Seeds
Wood Prairie Farm
Johnny’s is not on this list yet because they are still in the process of phasing out all of their Monsanto seed and that should be done by this season or next.
Now lets circle back around to that heirloom question. Why heirlooms? This is the best way for me to illustrate why.
In a nutshell varieties are becoming extinct. The plants once full of color and taste are being phased out for varieties that are bland, but HEY! they all look exactly the same… you know, for the grocery store. Heaven forbid we eat an ugly tomato.
So make your choices and be informed.
*List is courtesy of Occupy Monsanto