Buying and saving garden seed: Factors to consider
One of the most compelling reasons for growing your own fruit and vegetables is that you can use open-pollinated seed. An open pollinated seed can be saved from the new plant and used in the next season. Whether it is an heirloom variety (a subgroup of open-pollinated) or not is inconsequential. Open-pollinated seed has not had its genes tampered with. In modern hybridization, the producers combine two very different parent plants to produce a new variety of plant. This new plant is developed for high production and at a high cost. Hybrid seed companies recover the cost of development by selling you the seeds year after year — you cannot save hybrid seed and grow a plant like your did in the first season.
There are other reasons not to buy hybrid seeds. They lack the flavor of the original non-hybrid counterpart, they require fertilizer to obtain the high yields of produce, they tend to drink much more water, they are more susceptible to insect attack needing a pesticide cure, and they will produce no seed or seed that nothing like its hybrid parent.
Ordering Open-Pollinated Seed
Even some of the most favored seed vendors of organic seed sell both hybrid and open-pollinated seed. It’s too easy to be sucked in by the super sales copy that accompanies the hybrids. Look for (F1). If that symbol is in the description of any seed, pass it by. It is a hybrid. Open pollinated seed has (OP) somewhere in the description. When you see this sign, that is your sign to seriously ponder and pick. If a seed is labeled “heirloom” it should also be open-pollinated.
Saving Open-Pollinated Seed
Know that you can save seed from one season to the next. This is what farmers have done for centuries until big business got involved. Be aware of a couple of points if you are going to save seed.
- Do not plant two or more varieties of the same vegetable close together. They will cross pollinate and produce a new variety of that vegetable. You may like the newcomer or not. If you have the space, designate one garden row for seed collection: one zucchini, one tomato, one sweet pepper, one okra, one chard, etc. These vegetables will be good neighbors but will not cross with one another. Save that seed as being true. As you work with this, you will discover much. For instance, if hot peppers and sweet peppers cross then it’s hard to find any that are sweet. Hot dominates.
- Over several seasons you will notice that a given seed is producing a slightly different vegetable than it did in its first season. Over time the seed adapts to your soil, your climate, your elevation and you have your own very special designer edition of that vegetable. This is adaptive behavior on the part of the plant…very different from human-tampered hybridization. I have a golden bantam corn that has adapted over four seasons to become California Hot Springs Bantam. It’s a treasure!
More Information On Buying Seed
My bias toward open-pollinated is quite apparent here. As people who love soil, gardening, and fresh food, I believe we have a responsibility and a major opportunity to preserve what has fed civilizations for more centuries than we know.
For more information on seeds, check out the resources at Back Woods Home.
For seed catalogs, visit Victory Seeds and Sustainable Seed Company. When you drill down in the individual vegetables at Sustainable Seed Company, you get information like which states are recommending this one from their Extension offices. This is a great site. I hope to visit the operation one of these days.