With all the "buzz" words flying around when it comes to seeds, it is hard to know which seeds you should buy when panning your garden. One thing that is for sure is people seem genuinely concerned about using non-gmo seed. I hear it all the time at markets, " do you use GMO seed?", and you see it now all the time on products you buy from the store, "non-GMO". I wonder how many people out there actually know what GMO's are. I know I myself, a grower, was not fully aware of what that meant, even a few years into growing. First, let's start with the basics: GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It can apply to micro-organisms, plants or animals, and basically means that the genes have been altered ( think of the double helix DNA strand). This is done by methods that go beyond my understanding, but what is happening is, genes from animals or microorganisms are being combined with that of the plant to cause it to possess a new, seemingly desirable trait (bacterias used as natural pesticides is one example), and while the intent is good in many cases, there is little knowledge of what the possible consequences of ingesting these modified foods are. Some believe there is a link to GMO's and many acquired food illnesses and allergies that seem to be more and more common these days. There are many others causes for concern with Genetically modified seed, and I will leave it to you to research and decide what you think for yourself. However, what if you want to avoid these seeds? What about things like Pluots (a fusion of plum and apricot) or seedless watermelon? Are these things genetically modified to acquire these new 'desirable' traits.
The answer is, NO. These seeds are Hybrid seeds. They are made from cross pollinating two parent plants in order to gain desirable traits such as resistance to insects. While this may be considered "safer", one drawback from hybrid seeds, is that you will not be able to save seed from the plant and get the desired trait from the seed. They have to be "re-bred" every year. One good example I can think of is the Aggie Bluebonnet- a hybrid bluebonnet that is a maroon/burgundy color. The first year you will have maroon flowers, but the following year, plants that come back will have flowers that are blue. This is fine if you want to purchase brand new seed every year.
The last type of seed I am going to talk about is heirloom seeds. These are seeds that may have been saved, and passed down from generation to generation because of a particullar desireable trait. Some heirloom seeds can be traced back hundreds of years. All Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, which means the seed can be collected, saved and re-planted, and the exact same variety will re grow from the seed. Many people are making a move to use more open-pollinated varieties, and if you know how to save seed, it can really be a good investment. One company I know of, Texas Ready, sells open-pollinated, heirloom seed banks, which can be used or saved in the event of an emergency, and their goal is to have no return customers- they want their customers to learn how, and be able to collect and save their own seed. I purchased one of their kits,it is a great value, and has many staple food varieties such as corn & beans, as well as about 3-4 varieties of each type of vegetable. Click the Image below to learn more! One thing I love about this company is that they send you seed according to your location being either North or South, only sending you varieties that will do well in your region. This is more than Lowe's or Home Depot will do for you.
Hopefully you now have a somewhat better understanding of the different types of seed available, and you can use this information to make a more informed decision when purchasing seed. If you are worried about GMO seeds, one interesting thing I found out is that in general they are not really readily available to the average consumer. Even for large, commercial growers the GMO's are typically limited to corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton( for oil), canola (oil), squash and papaya, sugar beets and alfalfa. Unfortunately it is more likely to be in your food staples than in your local farmer's garden.