If you’ve bought seeds for your garden before, you may have just gotten whatever was available at your local garden center and called it a day. But buying quality seeds is a little more complicated than that. There are a lot of factors that go into high quality seeds, including how they were grown/sourced, treated, and what values the seed company operates under.
You don’t want to be inadvertently buying GMO or closed pollinated seeds, but how do you make sure you’re getting the best seeds for you? There are a couple things you can look out for when researching and buying, to help you make informed decisions. A few things to keep your eye out for, are seeds that are open pollinated, non-GMO, heirloom, and organic. While that may seem complicated, we’ll get into what each of these things mean and their importance for your backyard garden.
What Does Open Pollination Mean?
Open pollinated seeds simply means that the seed’s parent plants were pollinated naturally by insects, humans, birds, or wind. This means that the plants were not in a controlled environment where the flow of pollen was restricted. This allows the plant to adapt better to your area’s growing conditions because it is more genetically diverse.
The reason it can be beneficial to buy open pollinated seeds, is it allows you to save your seeds each season and they will grow true to type (you’ll want to make sure there isn’t any cross pollination between varieties.) This can be beneficial for saving money and having food security. It also helps to retain genetic diversity and make sure we don’t lose many special varieties.
What are Heirloom Seeds?
An heirloom seed is an open pollinated plant variety that has been around for a long time. Some classify heirlooms as anything older than 50 years. But some heirlooms have been around for 100’s of years. While an heirloom seed must be open pollinated, not all open pollinated seeds are heirloom. Many people like to use heirlooms because of their flavor, history, and desire to keep old cultivars alive. Heirlooms also tend to be imperfectly beautiful, unlike hybridized and genetically modified plants that have been bred to look “perfect”. In my mind, there isn’t anything prettier than a knobbly heirloom tomato.
The one downside to heirloom plants, is they tend to be less disease resistant or good for storing. While this is something to keep in mind, many vegetables need to be frozen, canned, or processed in some way to make them last longer than a few weeks, even if they aren’t heirlooms. When it comes to disease and pest resistance, by implementing older prevention practices like companion planting, you can plant heirloom varieties without worry. The reality is, plants can get diseased no matter which ones you grow.
Why You Should Buy Organic Seeds
The short answer is, by buying organic seeds you’re buying seeds that were grown without pesticides. If you want to label your vegetables as organic, they must be grown from certified organic seeds. But why is it important? Organic growing methods are just better in every way. Growing organic accounts for soil health and the health of the ecosystem around you. If you’re interested in organic gardening, you’ll want to buy organic seeds, because the seeds are grown to perform well in an organic growing environment. They have been bred over generations to be more pest and disease resistant and to not need synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to thrive, just good soil. Using organic fertilizers/compost is always a great idea, but no chemicals are needed!
Why Non-GMO is Important
GMO seeds are seeds that have been modified in a lab to contain things that are not present in nature, so that they can withstand unnatural growing practices, like monocropping. Plants need to be genetically modified to withstand poor soil, due to the lack of crop rotation and the chemicals that are sprayed onto that soil to keep the plants alive. Corn is commonly genetically modified, as is soy.
Genetically modified plants are bad for your health and the environment due to the chemicals used in the growing of them. The more chemicals are used, the harsher they have to become, because weeds become resistant to them. Chemicals like 2,4-D are used, which is an ingredient in agent orange, the chemical herbicide used in the vietnam war. Those chemicals are sprayed onto our soil and then leach into groundwater. By buying from non GMO seed companies, you’re choosing a healthier option for you and the environment.
Best Places to Buy Seeds Online
Thankfully, there are so many wonderful companies that are working to keep old cultivars and wonderful open pollinated and organic seeds accessible to home gardeners! All of these companies are great and will have so many wonderful seeds to choose from.
Hudson Valley is a seed company based in upstate New York. They emphasize keeping crop diversity alive, growing organically, and are sustainability minded. Check out their gorgeous art packs! Read more about them here!
Grand Prismatic is based in Utah. Open pollinated seeds are very important to them and they state, “We believe a cornerstone of food sovereignty is the ability of farmers and gardeners to save their own seed and adapt varieties to meet the needs of their environment and community.” So good! If you love to dye naturally they have a beautiful selection of dye plants. They also have a native range, which is perfect for those who live in the western United States. Read more about them here!
Farmacie Isolde is truly a beautiful company. They are also located in the Hudson Valley in New York and all of their seeds are untreated and open pollinated. While they are not certified organic, they grow with all organic methods which is just as good! Read more about them here!
Bucktown Seeds is based in Pennsylvania and sells only open pollinated and untreated. non-GMO seeds. They prioritize sourcing from seed growers based in the U.S. and have a beautiful selection of organic seeds. Read more about them here!
Baker Creek seeds is based in Missouri. They sell open pollinated, heirloom seeds and are North America’s largest heirloom seed company. Read more about them here!
Seed Savers Exchange is a seed swap where gardeners in the U.S. can swap seeds they have grown themselves. Here’s a little snippet from their site, “Participants in the Exchange have saved thousands of rare heirlooms from extinction by connecting with new seed stewards to carry on seed saving traditions to the next generation.” Read more about the important work that they are doing here!