Seeds: Heritage, Hybrid, GMO

  • Post published:02/25/2012
  • Post comments:3 Comments
Seed Savers Exchange catalog

The Native Seeds/SEARCH catalog arrived in my mailbox this past week. This company located in Tucson is new to me, and so is the term native seeds.

Included with the catalog that offers a variety of open pollinated seed from amaranth to watermelon was a tiny separate chart listing the best ways to choose seed. They say “Whenever possible, source your seeds first from the area where you live. Seed libraries, seed exchanges and local seed companies that actually grow the seeds they sell are ideal choices.” I was confused to receive this catalog here in Massachusetts because the company touting local seed is located in Tucson, Arizona, and the names of the varieties offered like Escondida chile, Guarijio sweet corn, Calabaza Mexicana squash and Hopi Red watermelon indicate that they are native to the southwest. If I were to plant these seeds I would be disobeying what seems to be the first tenet of this seed company.

There is a lot of concern about seeds in the farm and garden world these days. As more and more large farms use Genetically Modified Seed (GMO) for commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, there is a countervailing interest in open pollinated seed, which is seed that produces plants exactly like the original seed.

The Seed Saver’s Exchange was the first group that I was aware of that was actively working to preserve the open pollinated seeds of vegetables and flowers grown by gardeners and farmers all over the country. Since 1975 this non-profit organization has been making it possible for seed savers to exchange seed with each other. At the same time they have a farm where they can also keep rare and unusual seeds going. The SSE now has its own catalog, paper and online, so that gardeners can order what are now often called heritage seeds.

An advantage that heritage seeds have is that the crops they produce are often specially adapted to certain areas, thriving in a certain kind of soil, with a particular type of weather. When you look at all those thousands of varieties you have a wide and deep gene pool that can be used when scientists prepare to create a new hybrid that will meet a particular situation.

Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog

I buy some of my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. This is partly a sentimental choice because I met Johnny when we were living in Maine in 1975. The company was very new and I was fascinated by the idea of a seed farm, something I had never considered before. I also think seeds of plants grown in Maine should be right at home here in Heath.

Johnny’s, like Native Seeds/SEARCH and their Tucson Seeds, sees a benefit in being a local source. Unlike Native Seeds he includes hybrids in his catalog. I like knowing that Dunja, a new variety of zucchini is disease resistant and has higher yields. I guess I can hear people saying who needs a higher yielding zucchini – but I can bring my extras to the Center for Self Reliance!

Hybrids have been around for centuries because plants do cross pollinate naturally, sometimes resulting in an improvement, or sometimes not. I am happy that scientists can cross one squash with another to make a variety that is more disease resistant in this natural way so that my harvests can be a bit more dependable.

I do not like the idea of GMO seeds that have had genes of a different organism put into my soybean (or whatever) plant. I can understand that big farmers like to get rid of weeds with  Round-Up, but don’t like killing their crops with Round-Up. Finding the answer to this dilemma by developing a GMO soybean that won’t be killed by Round-Up might sound like a good idea, but we all know that living organisms can become resistant to threat. We are now urged not to use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary because germs become stronger and resistant to the antibiotics. It seems to me there is a danger in GMO crops also becoming resistant. I fear the damage to the soil, and indeed to people who eat these crops.

I know GMOs are controversial, and I don’t claim to understand all the ramifications, but I try to avoid GMO products when I can. GMOs are not readily available for home garden crops, so that is one worry I don’t have in my own garden.

High Mowing Organic Seeds catalog

I do like the idea of supporting companies like Johnny’s that grow their seeds more locally than Tucson. I have also been buying native seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds which is located in Vermont. Even here I have a sentimental attachment because I spent some years of my childhood on a Vermont dairy farm.

Others may also like buying seeds from High Mowing because they are a local(ish) company, but also because every seed in their catalog has been grown organically. They offer heirloom varieties as well as hybrids that promise disease resistance or some other benefit. They even note which lettuce varieties like Gaviota, and Sula, are good for eating at the baby leaf stage, but not at full size.

Have you been thinking about seeds? Where to buy them? Whether you like heritage varieties or hybrids? Do you have a variety you must have in your garden every year? Let me know your thoughts by emailing me at and I’ll share your comments.

Between the Rows  February 18, 2012


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jeane

    I have thought a lot about this. Every year I try to buy better seed. At first I just picked out seed at the store that wasn’t hybrid, then I tried to only get organic seed. This year I found a local seed company that grows open-pollinated seed, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and bought most of my seed from them. When I found I’d forgotten to order one, I picked up a packet at the grocery store, which just happened to have High Mowing seeds available.

  2. Helen Opie

    I no longer buy seeds from Johnny’s because of the cross-border hassle with them, but I buy other stuff from them, and get my seeds from small Canadian seedspeople (Wm Dam, and Terra Edible in Ontario, and Hope Seeds and Annapolis Seeds, just up the road from me.

    There are two veggies I’ve planted every year I could get them for about the last 40 years. One is Yellow Crookneck summer squash; it isn’t a high-yielder like zucchini, but it tastes superb. The other is Lutz Greenleaf Beet; they grow very large (softball size or more) and therefore store better as they have higher interior-to-skin ratio than small beets. They also taste delicious and do not get woody. I highly recommend them!

  3. Pat

    Jeane – We make a decision every time we buy something. I like being aware of what that decision is.

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