I ordered a couple seed catalogs recently to get ready for the upcoming growing season on the farm. My first one arrived the other day from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. The catalog, from rareseeds.com, specializes in heirloom seeds (no GMO or hybrids). In the past couple of years I’ve had a summer garden and planted a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes but have always wanted to try more with time and space being my main two obstacles. I’m really excited to be able to try more plants and varieties. I love to cook and try new things so heirloom plants are particularly of interest to me. They generally are more colorful and flavorful than conventional plants. Plus, as the name suggests they have been passed down from generation to generation and are a link to the past. I love that the plants I’m eating or growing have been around for hundreds of years and been circulating through a community of growers for generations. I recently learned that my husband’s grandfather has a jar full of bean seeds he’s been saving from his father. Maybe I can convince him to grow them this year! With heirloom seeds you can also be sure that the plant is exactly how nature intended it to look and taste because these plants are open-pollinated (more on that below). Looking through my seed catalog at the uniquely colored tomatoes and watermelons, I can’t help but think about how creative, artistic and loving God is to give us such variety. I’m excited to see and share what I learn about the order God designed in regards to nature by living off the land and taking a bigger part in how I’m feeding my family.
Below is a little crash course about seeds. I’m learning too and will hopefully be able to pass along more info.
Heirloom Seeds: An heirloom seed is produced by open-pollination (birds, insects, wind, etc). They are considered “true” because their seeds will produce the same plants as their parent plants. Heirlooms are usually a little less consistent but generally offer more flavor and variety. The plants can adapt over time to grow and thrive in a specific climate or soil. They then can become resistant to local pests or extreme temperatures. Generally to be considered an heirloom the variety must be older than 50 years old.
Hybrid Seeds: Hybrid plants are grown when two different but similar plants are cross-pollinated to make a new plant variety. Farmers and gardeners have been doing this for thousands of years to make plants that may have better yields, are more tolerant to adverse conditions, or other desirable characteristics. There is nothing too sketchy here but the biggest downfall is that you cannot replant the seeds from your plants. The new plant will not “reproduce true” and will not have the same desired traits as the original hybrid plants. This makes gardeners reliant on seed companies to get new seeds every growing season.
GMO or Genetically Modified Organism: This is any organism (plant or animal) whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered by adding new favorable traits and removing unfavorable ones from a food. An example would be a tomato that can be harvested from the field but won’t ripen until a later time. Most GMO plants are “cash crops” like corn, soybean and canola plants. They are engineered for insect resistance, fungal resistance, changed nutritional content, and improved taste and storage. These seeds make plants that would never show up in nature without humans interfering with their genes.
Bottom Line: GMO = BAD NEWS. Hybrid = it depends. Main problem is reliance on seed companies because you cannot reuse your seeds from harvested plants. Heirloom = better plant diversity and flavor. Keeps rare plants in circulation. Can be passed down seeds to next generation.
As I’m flipping through the catalogs I’m itching for the weather to warm up and get planting but unfortunately I’ve promised myself that for our first growing season on the farm not to do anything new but just observe and be a part of what is already happening. Hopefully I can stick to it.