Hybrid, heirloom, GMO-h my! Why all the different labels? Aren’t seeds just seeds? (Not exactly.)
If you’re new to gardening, you may have seen these labels on a packet when perusing through seed varieties in the outdoor section of your local hardware store. If you’ve been confused about what sets these varieties apart from one another, you’re not alone.
In this post, we’re breaking down the key differences between hybrid, heirloom, and GMO seeds. We’re also including our favorite seed retailers and how to preserve your leftover seeds!
What are hybrid seeds?
A hybrid seed is the cross between two genetically different plants of the same species, such as two varieties of corn.
These seeds are cross-pollinated by hand, with the goal to combine the desirable genetics of the two “plant parents,” such as larger fruit size or better resilience to disease.
The plant that grows from these seeds will not grow true to either variety.
When you purchase a pack of hybrid seeds, all the seeds within the pack will be from the same two parent plants: like a bunch of seed siblings, if you will.
Because hybrid seeds are specifically created to replicate the best results of the two plant parents, they tend to grow quicker, hardier, and with higher yields.
At Stoney Creek Farm, we use a lot of hybrid seed in our summer U-Pick Garden. Since we are growing for the public, we need great production and great flavor, which hybrid seeds offer. The only downside is that we cannot collect the seed from the hybrid fruit, because it doesn’t perform as well.
When organic certification was in the beginning stages, you could only use heirloom seed to be organically certified, but since then, things have changed. So can you now get an organic hybrid seed? Absolutely!
Just like your family may have heirloom items that are passed down generation to generation, the same is true of certain plant lines.
Heirloom seeds are the gift of a generation of growers, carefully cultivated for specific traits, whether it’s a unique flavor or special adaptation to local growing conditions.
In our U-Pick Summer Garden, we grow Bradley heirloom tomatoes, because it has a wonderful flavor that is very popular in West and Middle Tennessee. Unfortunately, heirloom varieties are not disease resistant and will succumb to wilts, virus, and blights.
GMO—or Genetically Modified Organism—seeds are created for desirable traits, such as withstanding drier conditions or harmful insects.
Unlike hybrid seeds that are the product of cross-pollination, GMO seeds are created within a lab through gene modification. For example, the Bt (Bacterial Toxin) gene is added to GMO corn to help with pest resistance.
GMO seeds still grow in soil like any other seed, but because they are created in a lab, they are more expensive to purchase.
We are certain that the world could not be fed without the propagation of GMO seeds, because the yields are significantly higher. Most farmers need these types of yields to survive in today’s market.
However, at Stoney Creek Farm, we do not use GMO seeds for two reasons:
GMO seeds are owned by the producer and you can be sued by the owner if you attempt to utilize the fruit (or seed) of the plant for the next season. Look up “Monsanto seed patents” for examples of these lawsuits. We just don’t agree with their logic and control.
Although no research is definitive on health issues with GMO-grown products, we question any vegetable that an insect will not eat (just sayin’).
HOW TO PRESERVE YOUR SEEDS.
Have leftover seed after sowing? Don’t throw these out!
The freezer does wonders in preserving seeds. Simply place your leftover seed in a freezer-safe plastic bag, and place for safekeeping in the freezer for next year.
We have even successfully used seed 3 years after we initially purchased it. The freezer is your friend when it comes to preservation!
WHERE TO SOURCE YOUR SEEDS.
For more than 14 years we’ve been purchasing seed for our summer U-Pick Garden, and in that time have developed a list of go-to seed suppliers.
We make our big seed purchase each January, then during early spring we begin growing our tomato, pepper and herb seeds in our temporary greenhouse before transferring them to our U-Pick Gardens outdoors. All of the rest of our seeds (squash, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, peas, beans and okra) are sown directly into the soil at the end of April/beginning of May.
However, we know several other growers who wait until the fall to purchase seeds.
Whichever time you choose to invest in your seed haul, these are the retailers we recommend.
Harris Seeds is our primary seed source. Both hybrid and heirloom seed are offered.
- Variety sunflowers
- Brussel sprouts
- Green beans (caprice)
- Providence variety corn
Urban Farmer offers non-GMO seed packets for just about any plant variety. We purchase Bradley Tomato seeds & some other items from them.
Johnny’s Seeds is an excellent employee-owned company that also offers high-quality non-GMO seeds.
We purchase herbs & heirloom vegetable seeds from them. They also offer seeds for most produce in both heirloom and hybrid varieties, as well as flowers and other gardening tools & resources.
Our Local County Farmers Co-op
We rely on our local county co-op for several seeds, including onion sets, okra, purple hull peas, buckwheat, turnip, mustard, collard, kale, and crimson clover.
Most years we’ve sourced our seed potatoes and sweet potato slips from the co-op.
If you are not local to Tennessee, do a Google search for “farmer’s co-op near me” and a store should come up for you.
If you’re growing a small garden and only looking for a few seed packets, brick & mortar retail options like your local hardware store might have just what you’re looking for.
Larger retail chains like Home Depot, Lowes, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree also carry seed packets, but we always encourage you to shop small business first.
We wish you a happy growing season! Keep reading the blog post selections below for more gardening guidance.