What do all those terms really mean?
And why do they matter?We started Bountiful Gardens with the idea that people could grow their own food without weird chemicals, and save their own seed, just as gardeners have done for generations. At the time, the seed industry was replacing traditional open-pollinated varieties with hybrids developed for agribusiness. Now, we face the new threat of genetically-altered crops. Here’s a guide to the terms: TRADITIONAL PLANT BREEDING starts by pollinating the flower of a plant with pollen from a related, but slightly different, variety. Then, over several generations, the plants are selected for certain traits. In this way, broccoli, for example, became different from the tough wild plants that are its ancestors.
OPEN-POLLINATED:As people keep selecting their best plants for seed, the results gradually become more predictable. Eventually every time you plant that kind of seed, the plants give similar results. Then the seed has been stabilized as an open-pollinated variety. The animal equivalent would be beagles, or golden retrievers—you know what to expect in looks and, to some extent, behavior, because they are purebred. Individuals have slight variations within the “family resemblance”.
HEIRLOOM SEEDSare open-pollinated varieties that have been around a long time (50 years minimum). Older varieties are often more nutritious and more adapted to organic cultivation--that used to be all there was. Farmers and gardeners are breeding new open-pollinated varieties today that will be the heirlooms of the future. Some people use “heirloom” to mean any open-pollinated variety, new or old, so if you are looking for old varieties, ask the seller what they mean.
HYBRID SEEDSare seeds from the first generation of a cross between two varieties. Plants from hybrid seeds are very uniform and predictable, which is why farmers use them (they might all be ready to harvest the same day, for example). However, the next generation of plants won’t be predictable because it is not a stabilized variety--sometimes they are even sterile. The seed doesn’t ‘breed true” for seed-saving, so you have no choice but to buy new seed over and over. Hybrids make gardeners dependent on the companies who produce the seed. Modern commercial hybrids are usually produced using parent varieties that are secret and are not for sale. (The exact cross is controlled either by hand-pollinating the flowers or by planting one row of plants that are only wanted as pollen donors and the next row with seed-bearers incapable of producing viable pollen.) In practice, this gives the company producing the hybrid a monopoly, because the parentage of the seed is a trade secret. By law, hybrid seeds must be labeled “hybrid” or “F1” next to the variety name. We don’t carry hybrids. We feel that food crops should be a common heritage we all share, not a set of trade secrets. Food independence must include seed-saving for local conditions.
GMO VARIETIESare not the result of traditional plant breeding, but of procedures in a laboratory. Instead of using pollen from another plant, technicians can insert genes that don’t even come from plants—some have come from a bacteria or a fish. Often, viruses are used to insert the desired gene. The main GMO crops are corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, cotton, and zucchini squash. GMO seeds are mostly sold to big agribusiness farms who sign a contract with the GMO company. The primary danger to home gardens is not from the seeds we buy (GMO seeds are not sold in the home garden packet trade--they are too expensive.)The real concern is pollen in the air and the food at the store, which tends to have GMO ingredients if it is processed and not certified Organic.. We do not carry GMOs. We don’t buy any seed at all from the companies who produce GMOs.
ANOTHER FORM OF GENETIC MANIPULATION is called Cell Fusion CMS technology. CMS
stands for cytoplasmic male sterility. An example of this technology is the
1996 patent for making chicory hybrids with cellular mitochondria from
sunflowers. In this example, a cell from endive and one from sunflower are
selectively irradiated to destroy the nucleus of one and the cytoplasm of the
other. Their cell walls are dissolved and the cells are merged into a single
cell, which is then grown in a laboratory into a plant which cannot produce
pollen. It can then only receive pollen from the selected parent variety. This technology meets the definition of
genetic engineering under International Organic standards. However, it is not
considered GMO in the United States. To date, this procedure is unregulated, and
does not disqualify a seed from organic certification. The only way to avoid
cell fusion CMS at present is to stay away from hybrids entirely or to
research each variety. We do not
carry any hybrid seed, and so there are no cell fusion CMS seeds in this
catalog. We urge you to write your congressman if this technology is of
concern to you.
SEEDS are coated with pesticide or fungicide chemicals
after harvest. We don’t carry any treated seed.
CERTIFIED ORGANIC SEEDcomes from farms inspected by the USDA’s Organic Certification program. They can’t use chemicals and must meet other requirements. Certified organic seeds are designated O, next to the price. Seeds grown organically without chemicals but not certified (usually because the producer cannot afford it) are designated GB, B, or N.
OPEN SOURCE SEEDis a new movement to protect seeds from privatization and patenting. Open-source seeds can be grown and used for seed-saving because the breeder has voluntarily given up his right to a patent monopoly. Anyone who uses the seed for commercial purposes must in turn keep the products of that work in the public domain. We carry several open-source varieties, which are identified by the open-source logo in the variety description. For more:
This work by Bountiful Gardens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.