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Friday, March 2, 2012

Let's Talk About Seeds!

A recent blog comment asked me to talk about seeds.  I'd love to!  It's one of my favorite subjects and I just spent the day with fellow "seedies" and am now fully inspired.

"Let's talk about seeds, baby.  Let's talk about you and me.  Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.  Let's talk about seeds!"  

(I'm sorry.  I couldn't resist.)

Seriously, let's talk about seeds.  First, some definitions:

Open Pollinated Seed - This means that when seed from the plant is planted, it will come back "true to type".  It will look just like its parent plant.

Heirloom Seeds - In order to be an heirloom seed, it must be open-pollinated.  It must also be an "old" variety, some people say at least 50 years but that's is open to debate.  What isn't open to debate is that heirloom vegetables must have TASTE.  There's a reason these varieties have been around for 50 years.  They're worth eating!!

Hybrid Seeds - Hybrids are made by crossing two parents (like two varieties of sweet corn) and the resulting seed is known as an F1 hybrid (that means first generation).  If these first generation (F1) seeds are planted they may not grow "true to type".  This can be good and bad.  If you are a gardener and want the same sweet corn that you had last year, you need to plant new F1 seed.  If you are a seed selector or breeder, this motley assortment of sweet corns may allow you to select for certain traits like height, stalk strength, taste, etc.  

PVP Seeds - The Plant Variety Protection Act was enacted in 1970, giving seed breeders and developers marketing rights in the US.  A PVP designation allows a seed to be owned and therefore its use restricted to production only.  There are a few exceptions:  a farmer who wants to save his or her own seed to replant or to sell to a neighbor, or research conducted with permission within the research community.

GMO or GE Seeds - {definition from the World Health Organization}Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.  

GMO Seeds are not just plant variety protected (PVP), they are patented.  This means that farmers CANNOT keep the seed that they grow.  They MUST buy new seed each year.  And when they purchase that seed, they must sign a technology agreement.  Even if they don't sign, the act of opening the bag is considered consent of the agreement.  For the first time in thousands and thousands of years, a farmer cannot keep his or her own seed.  Cannot select for varieties that do best on their farm and management conditions.  Cannot share that variety with a neighbor.

Think about that for minute.

For the first time in all of history, a farmer or gardener does not own seed.  Does not have any control over seed.

So where do we get our seed?  From whomever is selling it.  And whatever they are selling.

That isn't good enough for me.  I want to have some control.  So this year we are starting two very basic seed selection and breeding trials with green beans and sweet corn.  I am also planting a majority of open-pollinated and heirloom vegetables in order to save the seed myself.  Just one more notch on the sustainable farm ladder.

One of the most common questions I get asked is "Where do you buy your seed?"  
Here are my favorites:
I have walked their production plots.  I have tasted their food.  I have learned so much from this family. This is their first year marketing their own seed, although they've been growing seed for some of the most reputable companies in the business for years.  They are completely organic and I've ordered their entire line of seeds!

This is a Maine cooperative seed company, owned by the growers.  Fabulous selection and catalog.  Offers lots of organic seeds.

Great company out of Oregon that sells many organic varieties and in bulk!

All heirloom and rare seeds.  Their catalog is a work of art.  Lots of cool things you won't find anywhere else.  And $3 shipping...love that!

All organic seeds out of Vermont and in bulk!  Great service and fabulous stuff.

If you like to save seed and trade with others, this is the catalog and group for you!  I drool over this one.  But since this is our first year in saving, selecting and breeding seed...I'm taking it slow.

So there are my 6 favorite seed companies!  Bottom line for me:  I always try to buy organic seed as that is our production management, I NEVER buy off a rack in a store and I ALWAYS buy from a company that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge.

There's a brief introduction about seed.  If you have other questions, list them below in the comments and I can answer then in another post.  I could go on and on and on...


  1. I love the new look of your blog, Annie.

  2. Interesting! Thanks for the run-down, Annie. I appreciate you spilling the beans on seed. (I can not believe I just said that publicly.) :-)

  3. Thank you! Thank you! That is a great start for me... I'll check out some of those seed companies...


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