Green Gardening: Seeds to Success

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It’s garden planning time, and a lot of us are buying seed! If you are a new gardener, seed types can be confusing.  What you buy will depend on your food production needs and maybe your politics. Do you want to save seed? Do you want the most produce for your money? Do you care about GMOs? (You should!) Not sure?

Green Gardening

The Physic Garden (source: Mick Lobb)

Here’s a basic run down of the different types of seeds.

Heirloom seeds

Heirloom seeds are the oldest, being varieties shared within communities or passed down through generations of a family. Some strains are hundreds of years old! You know those seeds your grandma grew and gave you? Those are heirloom seeds. She probably got them from HER grandmother!  Keep growing them out, and pass them down to your grandchildren to keep heirloom varieties alive.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce dates back to 1850, and Brandywine tomatoes go back to 1885. These are heirloom varieties.

Hybrid seeds

Hybrid seeds, noted in seed catalogs as F1, are the product of pollinating two separate parent plants with specific characteristics. Hybrids were developed to offset the drawbacks of heirlooms and OP plants, so they are uniform and produce more. This is a boon for market farmers, and home gardeners may also want as much as possible for their money.

But you can’t save the seed from a hybrid plant! If you were to save it and grow it out the following year, you would produce one of the parents, not the plant you got from the hybrid seed.

There is a place for hybrid seed, but if you want to save seed, you have to have OP seed. You can grow both, though. Make sure your OP plants are far enough away from the hybrids so they don’t cross. You want your OP seed to be true.

What are open pollinated seeds?

All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP).  That’s why they can be grown out with the same result year after year. Open pollination is the fertilizing of plants by birds, bugs, wind, rain and even human contact. These are the seeds you can save at home to grow the following year. The plants you get from seed you grow at home will be acclimated to your area, too. That’s a big benefit!

Plants and fruit from OP seed are not always uniform. There is a greater amount of diversity due to pollination, weather, soils and other external factors. Their production is generally lower than today’s hybrids, too. They are desirable, though, because you can save the seed.

Seed saving – popular, and necessary

In these days of Big Ag, Monsanto and Seminis, it’s a good idea to create a seed stash. If Monsanto has its way, it will own all the seed in the world, which means you would have to buy their toxic chemicals to grow your food. You would also have to buy seed every year, because none of their product would be open-pollinated.

Seed saving is getting to be popular and necessary. The state of our food system is downright frightening, if you ask me!

Saving seed is an education in itself. Some open pollinated varieties need to have a certain distance from others in the same family to grow out true. Squash, for instance, will cross unless different varieties are ½ mile apart from each other. These are the sorts of things you need to study to grow plants for seed.

Which type of seeds to choose

Determine your needs. If you want to put food up for your family for winter, you might consider hybrids for high production. Hybrids are also good if your garden space is limited, and organic hybrids are now available. If you are more interested in carrying on the tradition of heirloom and OP seed, then purchase those. Research seed saving techniques, read books, go to workshops and/or pick the brains of your local farmers.

Gardening is an experiment! Be sure to keep a garden journal as reference for subsequent years. Always garden organically, and have fun!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.