Seed Types: Open Pollinated, Heirloom and Hybrid.

The vegetable and flower growing season is getting closer with each passing day. Here in NC, we have had unseasonably warm weather.  It SEEMS that spring has sprung but I still don’t dare really get gardening in full steam in case we get a bit of a cold snap.  Are you an avid gardener? If you are, you may have wondered about the various seed types available for planting.Seed types for flowers and vegetables can vary. Open Pollinated, heirloom, hybrid and GMO seeds are all different.

You only have to walk into a gardening center or big box hardware store in spring to see rows and rows of seeds for sale. Choosing what type to purchase can seem like a daunting task, since there are so many choices. One of the choices that every gardener has to make is the choice between open-pollinated, hybrid or heirloom seed varieties. Each type offers something and often the choice depends on your own needs and interests.

Differences between the various seed types.

Open-Pollinated SeedsOpen pollination happens naturally with bees, birds and the wind.

Open-pollination occurs in nature, naturally. It happens when a bird, insect, or even the wind pollinates plants.  As long as the plants are separated from other varieties, open pollinated seeds will breed “true to type.” The advantage of open-pollinated seeds is that you can save seeds and have them to plant from one season to the next. Another big advantage of open-pollinated vegetable seeds for most people is their superior flavor. 

Heirloom Seeds Heirloom seeds are saved from generation to generation

My favorite among the seed types are the heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds have developed outside of the commercial plant trade. I have heirloom bean seeds that originated in my great grandmother’s garden. Each generation of my family has saved seeds from the plant and grown basically an identical bean to one that my great grandmother grew. There are many smaller seed companies that have developed a niche in the market place selling heirloom seeds. Some say that heirloom seeds are identified by how long the seed has been passed down (often 50 or even 100 years is the benchmark.)  Others say that the history of the seed saving is important for heirloom varieties.Heirloom seeds are always open pollinated, but not all open pollinated seeds are heirloom seeds. This sounds like a paradox but is really based on the ancestry of the seed than on the pollination.

Growing heirloom seeds 

I was lucky enough to receive this kit of Heirloom vegetable seeds from Sprout Brite to try out.Heirloom seed kit from Sprout Brite

The kit contains a wonderful selection of these heirloom seeds:  Brandywine Tomato, Cherry Belle Radish, Tendersweet Carrot, Golden Beauty Corn, Great Lakes Lettuce, Red Burgundy Onion, Delikatesse Cucumber, Utah Celery, California Wonder Pepper, and Calabrese Broccoli. The kit comes in a pretty display box which makes it a great gift idea. Along with the kit, the winner will receive planting instructions and a calendar.Heirloom seeds

Hybrid Seeds.Hybrid seeds are generally more disease resistant but less flavorful

Hybrid seeds are those that have cross pollinated between two types of similar plants. This can result, naturally, if the plants are not separated from each other, and it can also be intentional by human intervention. Seeds of hybrid plants are unstable and cannot be saved for use in the following years. They will grow but likely will not be like the parent plants and may be less healthy.  With hybrid seeds, you must purchase new seeds every year which adds to the cost of gardening.

Hybrid plants are somewhat uniform in size.  If you are growing vegetables for resale purposes, this can be a big plus. Hybrid plants generally grow better and have a higher yield than open pollinated seed plants. They offer higher disease resistance. This makes them desirable for home growers as well as those in the commercial field. The main disadvantage is that flavor is not high on the list of priorities with hybrid seeds, although is not always the case.

What about GMO Seeds?

GMO seeds.Common GMO seeds are soybeans

And now for the elephant in the room.  If you have an interest in organic gardening, you have probably heard about the controversy concerning the use of GMO seeds.

GMO means genetically modified organism. GMO seeds are created in a lab using sophisticated techniques such as gene splicing.  Instead of crossing two different but related plants (as hybrid seeds do) the cross can be much more significant (such as crossing a bacteria with a plant.)  This is done to create pest resistant plants.  

What are the disadvantages of GMO seeds?  Sadly, that is a big fat unknown. In many other countries there is GMO labeling on products which come from GMO seeds, but here in the USA, this is not yet the case.

Many GMO seeds are those that are considered cash crops for farmers: soybean, corn, canola and cotton, but the slope is slippery and who knows what comes next? 

Which of these seed types do you have experience with and which is your favorite?

Heirloom seed kit from Sprout Brite


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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