This is page is to answer many questions people ask me about seeds. There is a lot of information floating around the internet and not all of it is true. This page is designed to make the information easy to understand with correct info, but not getting too scientific text book like which will make it difficult to read. If you have a question not answered here, please ask. Email it to SampleSeeds@yahoo.com.
What do GMO, Heirloom, OP, and Hybrid mean?
OP stands for Open Pollinated.
When seeds are OP, this means that if you save seed from the OP plant, you will have identical offspring. So you can keep saving seed year after year, and the plants will be the same. (If you are interest in seed saving, please see “I Want to Save My Seeds” father down the page.) Unless, of course, there is some hanky panky going on by insects, birds, or wind (depending on the plant,) and then the seed becomes CROSSED. The offspring that should have matched the parent are now different than the parent and has become a HYBRID.
From the OP description above, the vegetable and annual flower seed that is CROSSED produces babies that are all the same in the First generation (F1). So Hybrids come from two different parents (sometimes it is more complex than that, but in general) and the saved seed will produce offspring all the same. BUT seed saved from the F1 plants will produce offspring (F2) that are all different. How different depends on the parent plants involved. If the parents are very similar, the F2 plants might look a lot alike. If the parents are very different, then you can see quite a variety. See farther down this page for DEHYBRIDIZATION info. So hybrids happen naturally in the wild by insects, birds, and wind. Humans of course make them on purpose to create F1′s with traits they desire, but they are still mimicking what happens in nature. Hybridization done like this by humans is often called Conventionally Modified. In the strictest sense of the term GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) all hybrids are genetically modified. When speaking about GMO’s though, they are not the same thing. (The type of GMO’s people are worried about are discussed after Heirloom.)
HEIRLOOM is a term with no official standardized meaning.
It is sort of like the term natural when it comes to food products. There are no regulations in the use of the word. Used in the proper context it should really mean a cultivar that has been around for 100 years or more. So all heirlooms are OP since hybrid F1′s were not around 100 years ago. BUT in the future some hybrids will become heirlooms. Ones that have stood the test of time like old corn hybrids such as ‘Silver Queen’ which has been in production since the 1950′s. Of course they can not be saved by seed like the OP heirlooms so who knows, maybe another name to denote them will arise. Some people think heirloom means it has been passed down in a family and is not a commercial cultivar. This isn’t true. There are family heirlooms that were developed from hybrids in the garden whether naturally occurring or deliberate, but many family heirlooms originated as a commercial cultivar of long ago. I love antique seed catalogs and 100 years ago there were a lot of seed companies! So people had many to choose from and save seeds from. Luckily the internet has again expanded the choices people have.
GMO (GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM) sometimes refered to as GE (Genetically Engineered)
GMO really is a bad term since people will often argue all things are genetically modified; nature modifies all the time. Maybe they should of been called LMO’s Laboratory Modified Organisms, but is too late now, GMO has become part of the American public’s lexicon as the term for laboratory altered seed. Some scientists and others have use the term Gentically Engineered for the definition of the laboratory altered seed. The term GE has never really caught on possibly since it is too short, can be confused with General Electric (I have had people get confused when hearing GE and say, “General Electric?”) or GMO just became too popular, who knows.
There are actually 2 types of GMOs Trans-Genomic and Cis-Genomic.. The Trans-Genomic type NEVER occur naturally in nature between plants. (Horizontal transfer or viruses or bacteria are always possible.) They are NOTHING like hybrids. They areproduced in a laboratory setting. Genes of things too far removed from a plant are inserted to alter the DNA of a plant. For example genes of a bacteria, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) are inserted into corn so when a bug eats the corn the corn kills the bug.This transgenic type of GMO is what many people are worried about. Cis-Genomic can occur in nature, but it is very very rare. It is most often done in a laboratory setting. Normally in nature you will not see different genuses crossing. They have to be fairly closely related, and still you could see bees going from to plant for years and never have a crossed seed. But it does happen on very rare occasions. Another outcome of the offspring is that they are often sterile (mule) plants and can produce no viable see of their own. The farther away genetically the two genuses are, the less you will ever see this kind of thing happening in nature, and it must be done in a lab.
Why do some people consider GMO’s a bad thing?
There are many reasons why. Seeds are often modified for uses that many people do not agree with at all. GMOs on the market are designed to withstand being sprayed with an herbicide that normally would kill it and/or to produce an insecticide from the plant itself. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO’s being grown have better nutrition, increase in yield, drought tolerance, or any other benefit to the public. They only increase the profit of the chemical companies.
A good example of this is RoundUp Ready soybeans. The soybeans are designed to be able to withstand spraying by RoundUp (Glyphosate) and live. So the plants can be sprayed all during their growing cycle to no ill effects. Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide that normally kill most anything it comes in contact with. So this cause two disturbing issues. So the seeds are sold by Monsanto and then the RoundUp is sold by Monsanto so they have nice little circle of profit. Plus the over use of RoundUp. Glyphosate is not safe like the old commercials used to show. Monsanto got sued for false advertising. But the time they got sued, they had spread the message so far and wide, it didn’t matter. They eliminated that part of their advertising, but the safe message was stuck in people’s heads. So RoundUp is a chemical that we should not be ingesting especially at the higher rates these kind of crops can employ.
Also the weeds that do survive the RoundUp dousings, become extremely hard to kill. It sort of the same idea as the problems we have with the overuse of antibiotics and bacteria. Some people and scientists made these claims that this would happen before the RoundUp Ready soybeans came on the market, and their worries were dismissed as being unfounded, but they were right.
So now Monsanto and Dow Chemical are trying to get a new GMO on the market seeds that can withstand spraying by 2,4-D and Dicamba herbicides since the weeds are no longer killable with round up. Thankfully the USDA is not allowing the go ahead of these new seeds yet. 2,4-D is a very powerful herbicide. It was one of the components of Agent Orange. Anyone that grows tomatoes should be leery of it. If herbicidal drift gets on tomato plants, it will ruin the foliage. The affected foliage looks like it has Cucumber Mosaic Virus. If not too serious, the plant might outgrow it. If it is in the soil though, tomato plants can not be grown, and it is persistent in the soil. To read more about this, Click Here.
To see the movie Seeds of Death: Unveiling The Lies of GMO’s which touches on many reasons why GMO’s are not a help to our farming industry or health, Click Here. I wish the movie didn’t have such dramatic music or the one woman in it talking about gene altering as I think she should of said gene affecting, but all in all most of the info is true. More to come…
What KINDS of PLANTS are GMO?
In COMMERCIAL FARM production (NOT home garden):
- Soy Beans
- Sugar Beets
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
For more info from the NON GMO PROJECT, CLICK HERE.
What about GMO APPLES? They are not available yet, and the US Apple Association does not approve of them. For more info from USApple.org, CLICK HERE.
How Do I Know The Seeds (or my plant starts from the nursery/garden center) I BOUGHT Are NOT GMO?
At this time, seed and plants sold to the HOME GARDENER are NOT, I repeat are NOT, GMO. YOU, as a home gardener, can not buy them even if you wanted to.
To buy GMO seed, you must be a commercial farmer and sign legal documents when you purchase the seed. Those farmers must use them for planting crops and they can not save seeds from those crops for their own use let alone to sell to anyone else. Also, GMO seeds cost A LOT more than regular seeds. You are not going to find them at your local discount store. Also as you saw for the list above, the actual varieties of seeds that are GMO is very small. Corn and Soy just happen to be pervasive in our food system.
You might be saying to yourself, “But I see all the companies advertising NO GMO seed sold; things like 100% Non-GMO!” Rest assured no company can sell them to you. This is not to say they are not selling good quality seeds, but I do not like it when companies boldly state it. It is a marketing ploy feeding on your fears. It does nothing to help the anti-GMO cause. It only confuses the consumer and makes it seem like other companies selling to the home gardener are sell GMO seeds when they are not. NO company is selling them.
I have a couple small logos on the site, and I have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, but I will not have anything boldly stating NO GMO SEEDS SOLD HERE, because as I’ve already stated, I couldn’t sell them to you even if I wanted to.
Can GMO’s CROSS with Plants From My Garden?
For most people, this is not a worry. If you live in an industrial agriculture area where GMO corn is growing, you can have problems since corn is wind pollinated and corn pollen can travel at least 2 miles. The corn you eat is the seeds so that would be contaminated. You might thinking what about beets? They are wind pollinated too. Well beets are picked in their first year so GMO beets are harvest long before seed production. Also, soy beans are self-pollinating so the crossing rate is very low and the distance for a cross to occur is very short so there’s no worries about contamination from a far.
WHAT IS MONSANTO?
Monsanto is a chemical company that has been in business since 1901. They have manufactured a lot of bad things over the years, DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, Saccharine, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) among other things. Besides being well know for starting GMO’s, they are also the makers of ROUND UP. Click Here to read a well written article on the history of Monsanto and how it evolved into buying seeds. When you have time be sure to watch the documentary The World According to Monsanto.
DOES MONSANTO OWN HEIRLOOM SEEDS?
NO. Heirlooms and old OP varieties are public domain. NO ONE owns them. Anyone has the right to grow them. There is a list out there on a few sites with false info, and here’s why~ Since anyone can grow heirlooms, the SEMINIS company grows some for wholesale production. (So do a lot of other people.) Seminis is one of the world’s biggest seed producers. In 2005 Monsanto bought Seminis. So many people try to avoid buying seed from Seminis as it now would be supporting Monsanto.
Does MONSANTO OWN HYBRID SEEDS?
YES, hybrids ARE owned by companies. Some are property of Seminis. So if it is a Seminis hybrid you see in a store, it did in fact originate from them and no one else. Please note some hybrids come from other companies unrelated to Seminis. From seedstore packets or nursery plant starts, it can be difficult to know where the seed originally came from as the original producer is not often listed. I myself have bought seed to sell and did not know the hybrid came from Seminis.
What HYBRIDS DO come from SEMINIS?
Here are some commonly sold varieties for the home garden, the list may not be ALL of the varieties as companies do not always offer their entire stock each year:
Broccoli ‘Packman’ F1
Cabbage ‘Platinum Dynasty’ F1
Cabbage ‘Red Dynasty’ F1
Cauliflower ‘Cheddar’ F1
Cauliflower ‘Fremont’ F1
Cauliflower ‘Minuteman’ F1
Cucumber ‘Oriental Express’ F1
Eggplant ‘Fairytale’ F1
Tomato ‘Beefmaster’ F1
Tomato ‘Better Boy’ F1
Tomato ‘Big Beef’ F1
Tomato ‘Burpee’s Big Boy’ F1
Tomato ‘Celebrity’ F1
Tomato ‘Cupid’ F1
Tomato ‘Husky Red’ F1
Tomato ‘Lemon Boy’ F1
Tomato ‘Patio’ F1
Tomato ‘Pink Girl’ F1
Tomato ‘Sun Sugar’ F1
Tomato ‘Tye-Dye’ F1
Tomato ‘Viva Italia’ F1
Squash, acorn ‘Taybelle PM’ F1
Squash, pattypan ”Peter Pan’ F1
Squash, yellow ‘Gold Rush’ F1
Zucchini ‘Greyzini’ F1
Watermelon ‘Jade Star’ F1
For a COMPLETE listing of this year’s Seminis varieties, Click Here for Home Gardener Seed listings and Click Here for the Growers list. Please REMEMBER, there are older OP and heirloom varieties mixed in with the hybrids on those pages. Those can be obtained elsewhere.
WHAT GARDEN RELATED COMPANIES Does MONSANTO OWN?
- Dutch seed company De Ruiter
Partners to Monsanto are:
- SCOTT’S (lawn Care, yes Scott’s the company that poisoned the birds with the pesticide they knew was in their birdfeed.)
- MIRACLE GROW
To read the Monsanto Wikipedia page that lists all of their aquisitions, Click Here.
ARE THERE OTHER COMPANIES INVOLVED with GMO’s?
To see a chart of company ownership, Click Here. It is last updated in 2008, but you’ll get the idea. A good question to ask yourself is why are most of the large seed producing companies now owned by chemical companies? A good myth busting video about big Ag ‘Do We Really Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World’ can be seen by Clicking here.
I WANT TO SAVE MY SEEDS
You can save seeds from your veggies and annual flowers. If they are OP varieties, it is fairly easy for most genuses. How to properly save seeds varies genus to genus. Some do take a bit more work to prevent crossing. If you are interested in saving vegetable seeds, I recommend the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Saving flower seed is not too difficult in general, but the varieties of plants is seemingly endless so there is no definite resource like Seed To Seed is for vegetables. For flowers, it is much more complex, and I recommend TheSeedSite.com and also directing questions to the Seed Saving forum on GardenWeb.
DEHBRIDIZATION, What Is It? How Can I Do It?
Dehybridization is the process of taking a Hybrid F1 and turning it in to an OP cultivar. Lets say a neat tomato shows up in your garden because of some bee hanky panky, and you really love it because it tastes good, or you grew a couple annuals of the same species and then a new one pops up the next year and you love the color, you can create your own new variety with some patience. First you should take good notes on what the F1 looks like and take photos if you can. Then of course you must save seed from the F1 hybrid. How to save seed varies a lot depending on the plant as stated above.You must also determine if you should only grow that specific plant if it is prone to cross pollination. If so, plan on not having any other cultivars around for a few years. If it is a plant that is normally self-pollinating like a tomato or a regular (Phaseoulus vulgaris) type bean, you can still grow other varieties. A book to look into is Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe. They can take time to dehybridize. For example with tomatoes, you will need to grow and save seed from your plants for up to 7 years. As said earlier up on the page F1′s all look the same. Well the F2′s are going to be different. You need to grow out a bunch of plants in hopes of getting ones that resemble the F1. You will have to identify plants that look like the F1′s that you loved so much (that is where the notes/photos come in handy,) and then if it is a plant prone to cross pollination cull out the odd ones. If it something like tomatoes, you can still use the other odd plants for food, just save seeds from the plants that are like the F1′s. You will need to keep doing this process until all the seedlings are exactly alike. In a few years most of the seedlings will look the same, but there will still be odd ones. Don’t be lulled into thinking they are all the same after 2 or 3 years. Then once it is stabilized, it is a new OP cultivar, and you can name it whatever you like.