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GMO, Heirloom, Hybrid, Organic: What does it all mean?

posted Feb 19, 2013, 9:07 AM by Terry Bond

There seems to be a great deal of confusion among the garden members as to what this all means, so I  hope this will clear it up.

Heirloom Seeds are from plants that are purely whatever they have always been. They have been around for a long time. They haven’t been crossbred with other plants. The seeds can be saved, and you will get whatever it was, to grow exactly the same again. Think pure-bred dog: like a beagle, german shepherd, labrador, poodle.

Hybrid Seeds are created by breeding two types of plants from the same species together. If you got a new type of tomato by putting two other types of tomatoes together. Hybrid seeds won’t produce the same plant, if you save the seeds. It’s like breeding two different dog breeds to get a new breed. Think labradoodle or cockapoo.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Seeds are created by breeding something into a plant that is not of the same species. Think breeding a dog with a cat. What would you get? A dat or a cog? What the heck is that? Seeds cannot be saved from GMO plants (Why would you want to anyway?)  GMO seeds can have pesticides built into them, so if pests attack the plants, the pests die, hence keeping the plant producing longer. However, there is some thought that the plants don’t discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs, and bees, which are needed for pollination, have been dying off. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not ingest food that was designed to kill.

Here is a list from www.nongmoproject.org of what crops are genetically modified:

  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)

The issue with GMOs is not really about growing them in our garden, with the possible exception of zucchini and yellow summer squash, because most of the other GMO crops are not things that our gardeners would grow. The main sources of GMOs that you would eat come from processed foods. Think high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and there’s soy in just about everything. To avoid GMOs, you should try to stay away from as much processed food as you can, or look for the Non-GMO Verified label on products.

Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO all have to do with the makeup of the seed itself. Where it came from, how it was developed, bred.

And last, but not least, and most important (in my opinion):

Organic Seeds don’t have to do with how the seeds were bred, but under what conditions they were grown; whether the plants from which the seeds developed were grown organically, without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Not all Heirloom seeds are organic, if they weren’t harvested from plants that were grown organically. And yes you can have organic hybrid seeds, as long as they are bred from organic seeds. However there is no such thing as organic GMO seeds. So as long as you buy organic seeds, you can be certain that they are not genetically modified. In order for a farmer to sell their produce as organic, they have to have not used any prohibited substances on the land for at least 3 years.

I hope this clears up the confusion. If we really want our garden to be organic, then we should be planting organic seeds and seedlings, and of course only using organic compost/soil, etc, and no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. If you are buying heirloom seeds that don’t say they are organic, I would suggest that you check with the company selling them. It is possible that it is a small company who haven’t gone through the process of being officially declared organic, but it would be best to ask.