Ah spring time; that time of promise and hope after a long winter chill. Seeds are the foundation of all gardening, they contain everything needed within their tiny shells to create beautiful and sustaining growth.
My garden will be much smaller this year as most of my time is being diverted to getting my house on the market. But I still have the “bug” so I will comment on some meanings, definitions and concerns for those of you that are interested.
Heirloom or Heritage Seed
Heirloom or Heritage Seed is a type of non-hybrid seed. The terms heirloom or heritage do not have a legal definition nor is there general agreement on the use of the terms when describing seeds or plants. Generally these seed varieties are considered as having been grown prior to WWII or 1950. It often indicates that the seed has been valued by a family, tenderly and carefully preserved, and handed along from generation to generation. The variety of seed has had a long history, rather than being a newer development in the commercial seed industry.
All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP) and non-hybrid, but not all OPs are heirlooms. Some gardeners insist that to qualify as an heirloom, a cultivar must be at least 100 years old. Others say 50 years, some say 25. There is no agreement on the period of time an heirloom must have existed to qualify for the name.
Everyone agrees that all heirloom cultivars are, by definition, open pollinated. That means heirloom seeds will produce plants that are identical to the parent plants. Traditionally, what is called an heirloom is a cultivar that has been handed down through many generations, often within one family or in a relatively small geographic area.
Introduction of Hybrids
Hybrids came about around 1951. Hybrids were first introduced by the seed trade on a large scale to home gardeners in the 1950’s but did not catch on commercially in agriculture until the 1970s.
In the past, no reputable seed producer would ever release a new variety in an unstable state. It would be bred and selected for years until it would come true-to-type from saved seed. However, starting around WW II, the definition of the term has changed in its implication and application. Most seed companies are now motivated by profit and so they intentionally release unstable, hybrids whose exact parentage are guarded trade secrets. Since these seeds are not suitable for saving, the farmer or gardener must buy new seeds each season.
Hybrid seeds are the first generation offspring of two distant and distinct parental lines of the same species. Hybrid seed is also known as "high response" seed. These seeds require fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and lots of water to achieve their high yields. Seeds taken from a hybrid may either be sterile or more commonly fail to breed “true”.
Seeds saved from a hybrid plant will not grow "true” in that the plants will not be the same as the parent plant. Instead, they may resemble either one of the hybrid plant's parents, or an even earlier trait.
Since these seeds do not produce “like” plants or may be sterile they are NOT good seed savers. They also need to be purchased each season to produce the desired plant and therefore should be avoided by the self-sustaining gardener.
All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP), but not all OPs are heirlooms. Non- Hybrid seed is often known as “open pollinated” or OP. Many excellent open pollinated cultivars have been created since the 1950s, but they are not generally considered to be heirlooms. Once a cultivar is stable meaning it breeds "true", it can be called an open pollinated cultivar.
Open-pollinated varieties are the traditional varieties that have been grown and selected for their desirable traits for millennia. They grow well without high inputs because they have been selected under organic or natural conditions.
These varieties are also considered to have better flavor, hardier and have more flexibility than hybrid varieties. Again this has not been scientifically proven. Breeders cannot manipulate complex characteristics such as flavor as easily as they can size and shape. These seeds are dynamic, they mutate and adapt to the local ecosystem, as opposed to modern hybrids, which are static.
Commercial breeders currently lack the incentive to produce new open pollinated varieties from which farmers could save seed and replant.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)
GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. This process provides a class of legal ownership protection, often allowing corporations to own the DNA of specific organisms. Most GMO seeds have the same “seed saving” issues as hybrids, in that their offspring do not seem to carry the complete DNA of the parents or if they do they also start to magnify the “recessive” or weak genes of the parent. So to be guaranteed a crop of the parents, one must currently purchase new seeds each year. There is some research to create “self sustaining” GMO seeds but the controlling manufacturer and owners of these seeds are fighting that.
Certified Organic refers to products grown under guidelines as mandated by a third party certification organization. To become certified, growers and processors must keep very detailed records, adhere to the standards, have soil and facilities tested, keep copious records, and pay certification fees.
Many small growers are ethical and sustainable gardeners but either cannot afford the fees associated with the USDA's certification process or take issues with the standards. Some believe that the term “organic” when used as a marketing strategy is not strict enough. The best way to decide what terms mean is to talk with your producers, and go visit their gardens or farms.
The gardener interested in saving their own seeds to use next year should always choose open pollinated seeds and plants and there are many seed catalogs that specialize in open pollinated varieties. If you're growing two varieties of the same kind of plant, grow them far apart from each other so that they won't cross pollinate each other and the seed will stay true.
Permaculture - Originally started in Australia, its a term that means much like being self sustainable and organic and green wise all in one. Permaculture can best be described as a moral and ethical design system applicable to food production and land use, as well as community building. It seeks the creation of productive and sustainable ways of living by integrating ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry.
Self Sustainable - Means you or your farm are able to sustain itself without outside needs. Being able to grow your own crops and produce on your farm and sell them to make enough money to pay for themselves would help you be more self sustainable. Saving seed, having animals that create manure for fertilizer, growing enough for yourself and enough to feed your animals; these are also ways of being self sustainable.
Composting - Recycling organic matter such as manure, newspaper, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and more. Allowing microbes and bacteria to break it down into its simplest form turning it all into rich organic matter that you can use to mulch and fertilize your crops and plants with.
Vermicomposting - Composting with worms allowing the worms to eat the compost and creating worm poop called castings.
Eco- Friendly - Much like the Green Wise it means something or someone that is good for the environment. Aluminum Cans are Eco Friendly because they can be recycled over and over again.
Green Wise - Means someone or something that is good for the environment. You could say that compact florescent bulbs are green wise (until you consider the mercury).
Green Washing – This means that something is promoted as “green” or “eco-friendly” or environmentally safe when in fact it is not. A perfect example of this is Granite for countertops and floors. The carbon footprint to harvest granite is as high (in some cases higher) as harvesting coal via strip mining. On top of that the granite industry does not need to “reclaim” the quarry for future public use, unlike coal mines or landfills. These quarries become polluted with the minerals and metals that dissolve in the water that collects in them. Thus granite is a green washing product and not green at all.
Green Energy - Energy that comes from non polluting sources such as Solar Panels, Hydroelectric, geo-thermal or Wind power from Windmills. I personally prefer the term Renewable Energy as you can get it as long as the rivers flow, the sun rises, the earth vents its heat and the wind blows.
Agro-Forestry - Agriculture and Forestry mixed together. Any of the fruit or nut bearing trees can produce food crops available to people. Also growing crops in a forest like setting where the trees are grown in rows and the crops grown between the rows of trees are another form of agro-forestry.
Aquaculture is the cultivation of the natural produce of water (such as fish or shellfish, algae and other aquatic organisms). The term is distinguished from fishing by the idea of active human effort in maintaining or increasing the species involved, as opposed to simply taking them from the wild. Subsets of aquaculture include Mariculture (aquaculture in the ocean); Algaculture (the production of kelp/seaweed and other algae); Fish Farming (the raising of catfish and tilapia in freshwater ponds or salmon in marine ponds); and the growing of cultured pearls.
Hydroponics is crop production with mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil containing silt and clay. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite, gravel or rockwool. A variety of techniques exist.
Aquaponics is the integration of aquaculture and hydroponics. An aquaculture is used to continuously generate a nutrient-rich solution to feed a hydroponic garden. Aquaponic systems can be used to replicate controlled wetland conditions that are useful for reclaiming potable water from typical household sewage, in addition to generating a continual supply of food with minimal fertilizer use. Aquaponics takes advantage of synergy between self-organizing biological systems, emphasizing the one element/many functions principle of permaculture. This synergy benefits both systems and allows each to help maintain the other. For example, an aquaponic system consisting of goldfish and watercress would require less human intervention into each system. The goldfish would benefit from the filtration carried out by the watercress, and the watercress would benefit from the nutrient-rich waste excreted by the goldfish.
Notes and Concerns:
Seeds are incredibly complex and a contentious resource within the global food community. Today we seem to be fighting to retain biodiversity and our autonomy as food producers and cultivators from the large, international corporations and governmental influences and regulations.
There is no question that open- pollinated heritage and heirloom seeds help to insure worldwide plant diversity. How much so is what is under debate.
The fact remains that plant diversity and food crop genetics are the cornerstone of worldwide food security. Today this issue has become more important than ever.
The reality of limited plant genetics is one of the reasons for the Svalbard Global Seed Bank and has become fodder for a modern day apocalyptic global famine scenario. The Svalbard Seed Bank is also known, as the Dooms Day Vault. It is a well-guarded fortress located 810 miles from the North Pole on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The seed vault houses seeds from every continent. My big concern here is that the DuPont Corporation, Monsanto Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank are among those who help manage the trust fund for this seed bank.
GMO's - I personally hate them and feel they are not only a rip off, but a danger to humans and nature. I had a hard time when I was researching GMO's to find non biased information. In fact the only sites I found were: http://www.gardenersnet.com/atoz/gmo.htm; http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php and http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/pros_and_cons_genetically_modified_seeds.
It took 3 to 6 results pages from a Google search on "GMO seeds" to get a solely "pro" set of information. To me that says alot!
Some other articles of interest on this subject are:
** Must Read ** Genetically Modified Ingredients Overview http://www.seedsofdeception.com/Public/BuyingNon-GMO/index.cfm Which contains an important summary of what crops, foods and food ingredients have been genetically modified as of July, 2007.
** Must Read ** Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful? http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php
** Must Read ** The Pros and Cons of Genetically Modified Seeds http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/pros_and_cons_genetically_modified_seeds
** Must Read ** What is called "biotechnology" is a vital issue that impacts all of us - GMO http://www.raw-wisdom.com/50harmful. It goes on to list the 50 Harmful Effects of GM Foods.
Does planting GMO seed boost farmers' profits? http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/nwl/1999/1999-3-leoletter/99-3gmoduffy.htm
GMO Seeds: 'MNCs Gaining Total Control Over Farming' http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7602
Genetically Modified Seeds ‘Are Everywhere’ http://www.disinfo.com/2010/02/genetically-modified-seeds-are-everywhere/ and http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527453.800-genetically-modified-seeds-are-everywhere.html
Monsanto, the FDA, and genetically modified seeds http://www.enviroblog.org/2009/03/special-to-enviroblog-by-amy.html
Millions Against Monsanto Campaign - Monsanto's Global Corporate Terrorism http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm
USDA Makes a Deal with Monsanto - Hey Farmers! Buy Genetically Modified Seeds, Get Insurance Cheap http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/genetically-modified-47122604
Do Seed Companies Control -Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops. That restriction must end GM Crop Research? http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research
Why Genetically Modified, Drought-Resistant Seeds Are a Waste of Time and Money http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/08/genetically-modified-drought-resistant-seeds-waste-time-money.php
Seeds of Deception - Exposing Industry and Government Deception About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating http://www.wanttoknow.info/deception10pg
Can GMO seeds be ‘sustainable’? http://www.grist.org/article/can-gmo-seeds-be-sustainable/
Monsanto buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds Company http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/GMO/Monsanto/monsanto.html
Monsanto and Its GMO Seeds Under DOJ Scrutiny http://www.takepart.com/news/2009/12/01/monsanto-comes-under-doj-scrutiny
Monsanto GMO Ignites Big Seed War http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122498255&sc=nl&cc=sh-20100116
GMO Seeds Benefit Environment http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2007/07/gmo-seeds-benefit-environment.html found on page 3 of the Google search results pages
GMO Seeds Benefit Environment http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/news/stories/news4069.html found on page 8 of the Google search results pages
From a 50 Something, soon to be rural homesteading, Prepper ;-}