GMO Seeds, Hybrid, Heirloom. What’s the Difference?


Our stash of saved seeds for swapping with friends and fellow gardeners.

Quite often we have people ask us if we have non-GMO seeds. Frankly, every garden center and big box store has non-GMO seeds, or at least seeds that are assumed to be non-GMO. To explain, we will start with a quick explanation of genetically modified seed. GM (Genetically modified) crops are created by adding genetic material from one species into the DNA sequence of another species. The result of genetic modification by laboratory methods is a combination of genetic materials that does not occur naturally. The good news is, you will not find any GM seeds in a home garden center at this time, they are only used in commercial applications. We are seeing cross pollination and seed contamination from GM crops here in the US. To be absolutely sure you are getting 100% GM-free seeds, we suggest you purchase seeds from Non-GMO Verified seed companies. Both Baker Creek and High Mowing Seeds are Non-GMO Project verified. They are the only two seed companies in the US currently testing seeds at high risk for GM contamination for cross-pollination with GM varieties. You can find them online, or stop in our store to see our wide seed selection.

Hybrids are developed through traditional breeding, where pollen is moved between members of the same species. Plant breeders carry pollen from one plant to another by hand or with the help of insects to produce controlled crosses of two individual plants. Hybrids are typically bred for increased vigor, pest resistance, larger fruit size; or for commercial purposes, shelf life and shippablity. Hybrid cultivars are developed over many years. A few examples of hybrid plants are Sun Gold tomatoes and many of the “super hot” chili peppers, such as the Carolina Reaper. You cannot save the seeds from hybrid plants for planting, you will have inferior plants that are not true to the parent plant. You are able to root cuttings (“take clones”) if you would like to reproduce a hybrid. Hybrid seeds are still able to be classified as organic, if grown and produced by organic methods.

You may hear discussion about open pollinated seeds. Open pollination is achieved by insects, birds, wind, or other natural forms of pollen movement. The seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants. One of the bigger challenges in maintaining a strain by open pollination is avoiding introduction of pollen from other strains. Commercially, this is controlled with greenhouses, tall wall enclosures, or field isolation. We home gardeners can simply use caution in our garden planning and place various raised beds or garden plots in separate areas of our property when we are hoping to harvest seeds. ,


High Mowing Organic Seeds are certified organic and non-gmo verified. Find them here at the shop year round, for indoor and outdoor gardening.

Heirloom seeds are open pollinated cultivars that have been kept true to variety, with no cross pollination, through careful cultivation methods for over fifty years. Baker Creek Seed Company, who only sells heirloom varieties, uses tent enclosures in it’s own gardens to house their plants. Bumble bees are then introduced to control the pollination. This prevents cross-pollination from undesirable sources, as well as preventing cross-pollination between strains. Heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted, and should remain true to the parent plant.

We hope this had cleared up any confusion about the seeds and plants your are planting this spring. Happy gardening!

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